free speech pillars

Architecture 501 students present their designs for "free speech pillars," an art piece on campus that allows anyone to post anything on any part of the piece, inside Architecture Hall on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Hunter Traynor, the president of the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, called upon architecture students to help him fulfill one of his campaign goals: free speech pillars.

Since the beginning of the school year, Traynor has worked to install free speech pillars on campus to encourage different discussions. He wants students to be able to easily communicate their ideas by designating an area to pin up posters and messages without approval from the administration.

After a long process of talking to administration, Traynor reached out to architecture professor Jeffrey Day to help implement this idea.

“I thought it would be a fascinating project for students to be involved in not only because of its cultural and political overtones,” Day said, “but also just creating an object that could maybe be located in various places around campus that supports the idea of posting messages and posters, whatever they might be, as part of the university’s commitment to free speech.”

Day’s students have spent the last month brainstorming and finalizing their ideas before they present in front of administration. Traynor visited the students during their class and said he was blown away by the projects.

“At first glance, I am absolutely floored by all this,” Traynor said “… Every single one is so different from the others. I don’t even know where to start unpacking things.”

Traynor said the pillars can hardly be called that because none of them look like pillars. The 10 students paired up to create one project to accomplish Traynor’s goal — except for one group that created two projects.

The students considered cost, location, materials and structure, and met with representatives from UNL Facilities and talked to different companies about materials.

“It’s got to really function well as a place where the university community can post messages and posters,” Day said. “ … It’s got to look nice when people are sticking who knows what on it because they don’t have control over how it’s going to be used … It’s going to have a life of its own after it’s built.”

All the groups considered the amount of space for students to display their information. Some projects added height or other visual elements to draw people in, and others included a bench for students to sit down on. Some projects also allowed students to write on the pillar or interact with magnets to display messages.

UNL Facilities recommended three different locations: one near Hamilton Hall, Pound Hall and the Sheldon Art Museum, another near Kauffman Residential Center and Andrews Hall, and finally one by Cather Dining Hall.

After analyzing the students’ designs, administration will select projects to move forward and figure out the details to finalize them. At the moment, Traynor said he does not know how this project will be funded but is excited to see this project carried out.

“I want to get this in front of [administration’s] face,” he said. “I think from the beginning of the year they were intrigued by the concept from a practical perspective … expanding the ability for students to share their ideas on campus.”

Overall, Day said it has been a great project for his students.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities,” he said. “Unfortunately, likely only one’s going to be built, but I think all of them are reasonable and feasible projects, so we’ll see where it goes.”