NEW YORK—The decision by Polk State College to refuse to display a faculty member’s artwork because they deemed it “too controversial” demonstrates an alarming disregard for artistic freedom on a college campus, PEN America said in a statement today.
Serhat Tanyolacar, an adjunct faculty member in the Polk State College Art Department, was invited to submit a piece of artwork for a faculty art show for which no guidelines were provided.  The work he submitted, “Death of Innocence,” includes depictions of President Donald Trump and sexually explicit imagery, and the College cited its “controversial” nature to Tanyolacar in their rejection of the work.  
“Having provided no criteria for works to be included in their exhibit, Polk State College cannot retroactively determine that certain topics or viewpoints are off limits,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America Senior Director of Free Expression Programs.  “Artistic freedom must be protected on our college campuses in particular, as it is there that open debate and the sharing of diverse viewpoints contributes most directly to intellectual growth and freedom.  At a moment when universities around the country are struggling with deeply challenging issues around free expression and young people are actively engaging in public debate on these and other crucial matters, Polk State College does its students a disservice by suggesting they cannot handle a little controversial art in their hallways.”  
PEN America’s 2016 report, And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities, takes an in-depth look at recent debates around free speech on campuses around the country, and lays out a set of guiding principles aimed at advancing the notion that colleges must protect and advance free speech and the principles of diversity and inclusion in tandem.  


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected]