University: bake sale was ‘protected speech,’ SG resolution not binding

Paul Cobler

Student Government heard a resolution Tuesday supporting the disbandment of UT Young Conservatives of Texas, despite University officials saying they would not enforce any actions against free speech on campus.

On Tuesday, SG held one of its longest general assembly meetings of the semester with one of its largest audiences to consider Assembly Resolution 15, which formally asks the University to take action against YCT for its Oct. 26 affirmative action bake sale.

An hour prior to the meeting, J.B. Bird, director of University media outreach, told The Daily Texan the University considers the bake sale to be protected speech and immune to punishment by the University.

“The University does not and will not take any punitive action against an organization or its members for exercising their constitutional right to free speech,” Bird said in an email. “The right to freely express views is vital to the health of our university even if some find that expression offensive or disrespectful. For this reason, UT will continue to protect students and student organizations in the exercise of their right to free speech.”

Bird’s statement was the first response from the University about the SG legislation recommending punishment of YCT.

Prior to the University’s statement, YCT issued a warning, promising legal action if steps were taken to remove the group from campus. 

YCT communications director Allison Peregory said she didn’t expect YCT members to attend the meeting due to safety concerns, but said it was not SG’s place to police her organization.

“I think that YCT was participating in freedom of speech,” Peregory said. “The people who wrote AR 15 don’t agree with that speech, and it’s easier to suppress speech that you disagree with than to be intellectually challenged.”

At the SG assembly meeting, multiple students spoke in support of the resolution, and an extended debate was held as the legislation was fast tracked for consideration by the assembly.

“I am really, really proud of the response that the majority of the student body gave to that bake sale,” SG President Kevin Helgren said. “It’s a tricky situation. I think the bake sale was offensive, I think it was inaccurate, I think it was misinformed, I think it was hate-filled, but I think it was a poor demonstration of their First Amendment right.”

Helgren also reiterated even if a resolution passes through SG, it does not mean the University is required to enact the legislation’s proposals.

McCombs Representative Priya Suri, a co-author of AR 15, said despite the resolution having any legal bearing, she and her fellow authors want to send a message that the bake sale will not be tolerated.

“We still do want the University to actually do something, but this resolution, the drafting of it, the presentation of it and the execution of it, is more of a movement and a statement that we stand in solidarity with people of color and people who were emotionally affected by what happened,” Suri said. “That is why we drafted this. That is why we haven’t compromised.”

University-wide Representative Ashley Choi, an author of the resolution, called on the assembly to set a precedent that incidents like the YCT affirmative action bake sale will not be tolerated.

“Freedom of speech has consequences,” Choi told the assembly. “That’s why we’re here today.”