Student Association met with free speech claims and teachers’ ability to have inclusive education in Wisconsin

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Image obtained from the UWL Student Association Facebook Page.

Julia Wille, Student Government Reporter

On Wednesday, Sept 22, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Student Association (SA) had representatives of the College Republicans speak about issues regarding free speech. The SA also discussed the new bill passed by Wisconsin legislators regarding education in Wisconsin.  

To start the meeting, College Republican’s organization representative Nick Schultz came to speak at the student body open forum. On Sept. 24, the College Republican’s student organization took part in a protest against the mask mandate on campus. They chalked on the sidewalk in protest of UWL requiring students to wear masks in campus buildings. Schultz said, “We were simply trying to protest the unlawful requirement of a mask mandate on our campus. We followed all UWL policies concerning chalking’s but yet the university allowed its student and staff to essentially wash away our protected speech.”

This was in response to the chalk writings being wiped down the next day. It is still unclear who specifically wiped down the drawings. Schultz said, “A member of my organization was told by a police officer that the chalking was deemed too offensive.” The College Republicans are working to have the mask mandate on-campus removed, on the grounds that it is unlawful.

“The administration at this university has favored organizations who have openly pushed for agendas that don’t reflect the will of the student body. Not only that but they added 10 seats reserved for student organizations that I cannot simply join because I do not belong to that group,” said Schultz. “Why do these student organizations get more of a say on student body policies and especially the distribution of segregated student fees that is essentially a tax, but we cannot? Well, the answer is simple, the administration is trying to silence us.” 

During his speech, Schultz mentioned that the College Republicans are taking legal steps if UWL doesn’t protect their free speech. He also said that they are in contact with the University of Wisconsin System and the state legislator trying to have the mask mandate removed. Schultz said, “We will not stop until our rights are respected by the institution we so love, and with that, I take off my mask.” He removed his mask and sat down.  

Later during the meeting, SA introduced a resolution that “vehemently opposed” the Wisconsin assembly bill 562 that was brought to the legislature at the end of last week. The bill will require schools to give notice to all parents or guardians before teaching anything involving gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The bill also will allow parents or guardians to prevent their students from attending any programming involving this content. Student senator Cait McReavy said, “This is harmful to LGBTQ+ students for a variety of reasons including the fact that it can potentially out students and could be an invasion of student’s privacy. LGBTQ+ programming in school is life or death for some students.”  

This bill was implicitly directed at Madison schools since they have been recognized for having some of the most inclusive LGBTQ+ inclusive policies in the state. The introduction of this bill is a reaction to some of these programs. “As education majors, we believe this bill prevents teachers from creating inclusive classroom environments in which all their students can learn and thrive,”  McReavy said. 

In the resolution that was brought to the senate, it was stated that, “a school is already an unsafe place for many LGBT+ students, given that 57% of LGBT+ students have heard homophobic remarks from school staff and 64% of LGBT+ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.” 

SA agreed to suspend the two-week rule and passed this resolution right away. The resolution will be sent to the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Education, the Assembly Committee on Education, and the authors of the bill.  

Another resolution that was passed by the SA this week was regarding the signature requirement for students to run for senate. Typically, to run for senate candidates must receive 25 signatures from students at UWL to qualify to run. This requirement has been waived since the beginning of COVID-19 due to health safety concerns. This resolution continued the waiver on the requirement for the upcoming fall 2021 elections.  

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