Conservative activist fights restrictionist campus policies

When the University of Kentucky liberal nanny state cracked down, sophomore Lance Wheeler was ready to fight back.

Lance is a graduate of the Leadership Institute’s Youth Leadership School, where he learned the skills – and the creativity – of effective organization. His results speak for themselves.

UK’s president banned all smoking on campus last November. His excuse: public health. But students resisted because they know it’s an issue of freedom. Wheeler led the movement. Wheeler built a diverse coalition of students, including College Democrats, College Republicans, College Libertarians, smokers and non-smokers alike, and orchestrated a protest of the Administration’s decision.

Students held a protest on November 19, 2009, to engage the university in its decision. Wheeler addressed the crowd of nearly 100 students, half of whom smoked cigarettes, cigars, and pipes in protest. “From now on, you smoke every day,” Wheeler told the group. “We don’t care what the officials from the administration say.”

Wheeler’s move is reminiscent of community organizer Saul Alinsky’s advice to students at a strict university in the late-1960s who were not allowed to “have fun.” Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, is given to students who attend a YLS. Alinsky encouraged students to chew copious amounts of gum and leave the chewed waste all over campus. The Administration relaxed restrictions so long as students refrained from littering gum all over campus (145 – 146).

Students continue to harangue the administration as they “light up” in protest. Their work didn’t go unnoticed, either. Time Magazine highlighted their actions in mid-December 2009, noting: On Nov. 19, the University of Kentucky, the tobacco state’s flagship public institution, launched a campus-wide ban on cigarettes and all other forms of tobacco on school grounds and parking areas. Pro-nicotine students staged a “smoke-out” to protest the new policy, which even rules out smoking inside cars if they’re on school property.

How did students benefit from this protest? Wheeler and others were able to raise awareness nationally for an issue; not necessarily smoking specifically, but that of freedom in general. Students recalled the words of Thomas Jefferson: “The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.”

The success of UK’s student push against the smoking ban would not be as successful were it not for Wheeler’s attendance at the Youth Leadership School. To learn ways to become more effective on campus, take a look at upcoming training provided by the Leadership Institute. Register and encourage other like-minded students to join you in the fight against restrictive campus policies today!

This story cross-posted at CampusReform.org.

Matthew Hurtt is a Campus Services Coordinator for the Leadership Institute’s CampusReform.org and can be reached at [email protected].