UVA restricts signage allowed on students’ doors to restrict speech it doesn't like

In fall 2020, students living on the University of Virginia’s iconic Lawn affixed signs, which read, “F**ck UVA” on their room exteriors.

The school is now limiting signs to those fitting within university-provided message boards.

After University of Virginia students posted signage critical of the school on their dorm room exteriors, the school issued new restrictions on the public display of messaging.

According to WVIR-TV, in fall 2020, students posted signs proclaiming “F**ck UVA” in frustration over the university’s policies toward Black students and police reform. In October, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan issued a statement addressing his disappointment over the signs.

“They are offensive and have understandably and deeply upset many in our community and among our alumni,” he said. “Personally, I find the signs deeply disappointing, not simply because of their language and location, but because they fail to acknowledge any of the progress that this University has made to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.”

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Ryan announced that “going forward, we can and will consider whether additional regulations are needed for the Lawn, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts visitors locally and from around the globe.” The administration said it would consider “whether changes to regulation of the Lawn should be adopted before the next academic year and before the next class of students moves onto the Lawn.”

Accordingly, the university issued new restrictions on signage for the 2021-2022 school year. The Housing & Residence Life department will affix two message boards “to be used for displaying messages or paper materials.”

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Materials placed on the message boards “must fit within the four corners of each message board and cannot extend beyond the outer edges of any such board.” Items and other materials cannot be placed on “doors, the doorway, shutters, or the brick areas outside the room except on the message boards.”

University of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy told The Cavalier Daily that Ryan pledged to “find a better balance between protecting the First Amendment rights of the student residents and preserving the unique and public character of the Lawn for members of our community and visitors from all over the world.” The new policy “clarifies and refines existing University policy on the size of signs that can be displayed on Lawn room doors.”

The students who posted the “F**ck UVA” signs told The Cavalier Daily in a joint statement that the policy will “inherently harm and endanger the most marginalized and vulnerable students” living on the Lawn.

“Though we initially made it a goal of ours to center only the content of our signs as opposed to conversations surrounding free speech, this policy is undeniably biased on those very grounds,” said the students. “This policy displays the extent to which the University is selective about who can exercise free speech and the content of that expression. Evidently, BIPOC students and allies cannot be critical of the University while simultaneously living on the Lawn.”

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Virginia for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft