Sticking it to the Man

UMass is restricting free speech by buckling down on crude window messages in Southwest


(Will Katcher/ Daily Collegian)

By Brendan Lally , Collegian Columnist

There once was a time where you could walk past the bustling towers of Southwest Residential Area and notice many vibrant messages scattered from window to window. Unfortunately, this is now a thing of the past, as residents of the Kennedy high-rise were sent an email regarding the sticky notes. As of Sept. 5, all residents were ordered to remove any adhesive on the windows, which brings up the million-dollar question: What’s the big deal?

When I first toured the University of Massachusetts and saw the sticky note messages throughout Southwest, it was something unique and hilarious that I’d never seen before. Just by looking up at a tower, memes, hashtags and images were visible in many of the windows. It added a sense of liveliness to the entire area.

Nowadays, residents are forced to look at a dull brick wall, with each window practicing forced conformity. Instead of residents being able to express themselves through sticky note art, residents are now subject to punishment. In an email to Residents Assistants in Kennedy, the building’s Residence Director, Jessica Prodoehl,said “[the sticky notes] is a policy violation, so if they refuse to take it down or put something back up, they should be documented.”

Are you kidding me? They’re sticky notes! Somebody please document me. What is even more concerning is that such a liberal campus like UMass is knowingly suppressing the creative expression of hundreds of students. I would love to think that UMass wants to promote the ideas of individuality, creativity and art within residence halls, but obviously conformity seems to be the front runner.

It’s no secret that some of the sticky note art was a bit inappropriate. The UMass administration is yet again trying to minimize the true nature of their students. You can’t tame the Zoo. The wild energy of Southwest is what makes this place so desirable to live in. It’s a beautifully diverse and exciting environment for students, so why not let them express their true colors to their peers? With this logic, I’d be “documented” for writing “RIP Mac Miller” in sticky notes. Real nice UMass, real nice.

It’s also notable that only the high-rise towers have enforced this policy. Freshman buildings in Southwest, such as Cance and Pierpont, still have plenty of lively messages beautifying their windows. It’s obvious that the sticky notes in the towers specifically created too much of a spectacle for the UMass administration. Some UMass employees will tell you the issue with the sticky notes isn’t the messages they display, but the actual adhesive that sticks it to the window. Last time I checked, a sticky note doesn’t leave a slime trail like a slug.

Even if these sticky notes did leave a minor residue, it’s a minor sacrifice to make in the name of free speech. Speaking of free speech, UMass may not be as free as one might think. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), UMass was rated “yellow” for their speech regulations. There are three categories FIRE uses to rate universities. Green is unlimited and true free speech, yellow is restricted free speech and red is highly regulated speech and expression.

Why do we have to face even the slightest of restrictions? Are we not the liberal safe haven that we’re painted out to be? We’re all adults now, and it would be much appreciated if we could practice our constitutionally granted rights in an unrestricted manner.

Speech in itself is harmless, and individuals are responsible for how they react to certain messages. Not every message is going to please every individual, and that’s life. Free speech still should not be suppressed.

Granted, sticky notes are a jocular example of how free speech can be restricted, but the same principles apply. Indubitably, the Southwest community would love to have these sticky notes back in action throughout every residence hall. It would be nice to look up and see the diversity of Southwest being projected on the side of any given building. In a simpler light, it would be sweet to look up and see all the pretty colors again.

It’s unlikely that UMass would ever reverse this policy, as all of us at ZooMass are law-abiding citizens. Who are we kidding? I’d bet everything that I own that the sticky notes will be alive and well by the end of the month.

Brendan Lally is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]