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UC at San Diego Sued to Enforce First Amendment Rights

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UC at San Diego Sued to Enforce First Amendment Rights

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Last week, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit claiming the University of California at San Diego and the Associated Students Council defunded student organizations in retaliation for a controversial article published by a satirical paper, The Koala.

KoalaThe student paper, which has been published at UCSD since 1982, made fun of politically correct or “PC” culture last November in an article entitled, “UCSD Unveils News Dangerous Space on Campus.”

It mocked the use of “safe spaces,” repeatedly used the “N-word,” and mentioned the opening of a “dangerous space” to accommodate “individuals who do not like feeling safe…continuing the university’s theme of inclusion and equality.”

In a 22-3 vote on Nov. 18, the student government association eliminated funding for all 13 active student-funded media outlets on campus. Gabe Cohen, editor-in-chief of the satirical newspaper The Koala, known for its vulgar shock-value humor, said his publication is being targeted specifically.

The council’s vote came the same day UC San Diego administrators posted an online denouncement of The Koala as “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.”

Cohen criticized the budget cut, calling it as “thinly veiled censorship” aimed at The Koala in particular. He pointed out that The Koala’s $3,000 annual budget makes up a small portion of the total student government budget — less than one percent.

“The decision sends a dangerous message to the campus, which is essentially, ‘If we don’t like what you’re saying, we’ll do everything we can to shut you up, even if that means harming innocents in the process,’” he said. “A.S. hoped this would make us go bow down and go away, but in reality they challenged a belligerent drunk to a fist fight.”

So far, The Koala has raised $1,000 in addition to securing advertising contracts, Cohen said, adding that San Diego State University’s chapter of the publication draws its funding solely from ad revenues, “proving it is not impossible to run without school funding,” he said.

Now, with help from the ACLU, Koala staffers hope to overturn the cut by taking legal action.

The ACLU’s legal filing quotes extensively from the Bias Incident Report Forms, submitted to the college by students offended by The Koala’s article.

“[The publication] propagates insensitive mindsets with its sexist and racist comments masked under cruel humor,” one complaint said. “Screen works to make sure that there is no propagation of these attitudes.”

Another complaint demanded the university “immediately take the initiative to end any hate speech, actions or crimes that offend any groups represented on this campus.”

The Bias Response Incident Reports apparently prompted action, with one administrator noting, “we do not typically receive so many reports regarding single issue.” The student government responded by ending funding for all printed student media, even though it continues to pay for other forms of speech like forums and events with speakers.

The ACLU argues that “however offensive or outrageous it may have been, the article remains protected speech on topical issues of public concern, including but not necessarily limited to the nature, purpose, and appropriateness of trigger warnings and safe spaces on college and university campuses.”

Cohen agrees.

“Part of attending a university is learning through considering opinions and voices that differ from your own, which you might not agree with,” he said. “Cutting funding to print media is a slippery step in the direction of anti-intellectualism and paternalism that should have no place on this campus.”

A motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard in federal court on July 18, 2016.

“Safe Spaces” Used to Silence Political Speech

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Chloe Anagnos Comments are off

“Safe Spaces” Used to Silence Political Speech

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In the last year, dozens of protests on college campuses have called for everything from supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement to demanding that school administrators address racial microaggressions on campus. These protesters and students alike call for “safe spaces” on campuses so that they can have an open dialogue about these issues. But what they don’t realize is that these “safe spaces” are being used to silence political speech – especially speech that they don’t agree with.

Free Speech

For example, George Washington University police ordered a student to take down a Palestinian flag that was hanging from his dorm window because it was not “respectful of your peers,” according to an administrator.

Ramie Abounaja, a 20-year-old pre-med student, was visited by a GWU police officer in October. The officer claimed he had received “numerous complaints” about the flag and wouldn’t leave the room until it was removed. Abounaja complied, but later questioned whether he had actually violated any university policies.

According to Abounaja:

Then, on Tuesday, to my alarm, I received an email from the Graduate Fellow Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities stating that they “received a report from the GW University Police Department regarding [my] behavior” that I was “found to have had a flag out [my] window” and that the letter “serves as a warning that this behavior is a violation of the ‘Code of Student Conduct and/or the Residential Community Conduct Guidelines.’” The letter also warned me to be “respectful” of my “peers” that “my behavior had the potential to leave a profound impact on the community.” The letter (attached) did not provide any details as to which provision, article or rule I violated.

According to The Intercept’s Andrew Fishman, GWU has no policy barring flags on the inside of dorm rooms, but it does prohibit flags hanging outside of the dorms – even though numerous amounts of flags have been seen flying outside of GWU dorm windows.
It seems as if the police are only called to remove flags that have offended others. Certainly, Abounaja is a victim of viewpoint discrimination. This kind of censorship—censorship of pro-Palestinian speech—is common according to Fishman:

Campus free speech and so-called “political correctness censorship” have been vigorously debated over the last two decades. That topic received particularly intense attention from journalists and pundits this year in response to controversies at the University of Missouri, Yale and other campuses.

In the first half of 2015 alone, Palestine Legal, a U.S. civil rights advocacy organization, has reported 140 instances of suppression of Palestine advocacy, 80 percent of which has happened on college campuses.

A Jewish student at the University of Michigan was recently investigated by a student government ethics commission after Palestinian students took offense at him aggressively criticizing a pro-Palestinian display. According to The College Fix, the commission affirmed that the student had a First Amendment right to question the demonstrators.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fired Professor Steven Salaita for his anti-Israel tweets and his lawsuit is currently moving forward in a federal court. The University of California is attempting to label all criticism of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic hate speech and Occidental College may institute a microaggression reporting system.

The First Amendment rights of everyone are in danger if one person’s freedom of expression can be diminished by an administrator, campus police officer, or an emotional student. The words “hateful” and “offensive” are relative terms. We cannot protect the kinds of speech we find to be agreeable unless we can also protect the kinds of speech we find disagreeable.

Unrest at Mizzou: A Timeline

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Unrest at Mizzou: A Timeline

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

**Editor’s Note: Tim Wolfe’s resignation as president of the University of Missouri prompted us to take a look at the events surrounding his resignation. We have complied them in a timeline here. 

September 12: Student Government President Payton Head posts on Facebook his frustrations after people riding in the back of a pickup truck screamed racial slurs at him. “For those of you who wonder why I’m always talking about the importance of inclusion and respect, it’s because I’ve experienced moments like this multiple times at THIS university, making me not feel included here,” he wrote in the widely shared post.

September 17: Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, the top resident official on the Missouri campus, issues a statement deploring “recent incidents of bias and discrimination.” He calls them “totally unacceptable.”

Mizzou

October 1: A “Racism Lives Here rally” is held on campus. “White silence is violence, no justice no peace,” protesters chanted, according to a report by the Columbia Missourian newspaper.

October 4: A drunken white student disrupts an African American student group, the Legion of Black Collegians, preparing for homecoming activities and uses a racial slur when they asked him to leave. “Not only did this individual disrupt our rehearsal, but we were also made victims of blatant racism in a space that we should be made to feel safe,” the group said. Loftin issues a statement the next day, saying “racism is clearly alive at Mizzou.” “What we have done is not enough. Every member of our community must help us change our culture,” he said.

October 8: Loftin orders diversity and inclusion training for students and faculty in 2016. “This training will inform all of us about the diversity of our campus and the organizations present on campus and make us conscious of how to be inclusive in our words and behaviors,” he wrote.

In an open letter to Loftin in the campus newspaper, student leader Jonathan Butler welcomes the announcement as “a step in the right direction,” but criticizes the chancellor for not acknowledging the work of African American students in developing diversity programs and for failing to acknowledge the breadth of racial issues on the campus.

October 10: Protesters block university President Tim Wolfe’s car during the Missouri homecoming parade to voice their concerns. Wolfe doesn’t respond to their complaints, something he later apologizes for, and his car taps a protester, which angered the group. No one was hurt, but protesters later accused police of using excessive force to clear the street.

October 20: The student group Concerned Student 1950, named for the year African-American students were first admitted to the university, issues a list of demands: an apology from Wolfe, his removal from office and a more comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum overseen by minority students and faculty. There is no immediate response from administration.

October 24: Another incident roils the campus. Someone uses feces to draw a swastika on the wall of a residence hall. A similar incident had occurred in April, but with ashes, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.

October 26: Wolfe meets privately with Concerned Student 1950 members, but doesn’t agree to meet their demands, according to the Missourian.

November 3: Butler launches a hunger strike, saying “Mr. Wolfe had ample opportunity to create policies and reform that could shift the culture of Mizzou in a positive direction but in each scenario he failed to do so.”

November 4: A student boycott in support of Concerned Student 1950 begins.

November 6: Wolfe issues an apology to Concerned Student 1950. “Racism does exist at our university and it is unacceptable. It is a long-standing, systemic problem which daily affects our family of students, faculty and staff,” he says.

November 8: Black football players announce they won’t practice or play until Wolfe is removed. The Athletic Department, Coach Gary Pinkel and many white players announce their support for the protest.

November 9: The Missouri Students Association’s executive cabinet calls for Wolfe’s ouster, saying the system’s administration “has undeniably failed us.” Soon afterwards, Wolfe announces his resignation.

November 10: Threats begin to circulate online towards the safety of minority students. The author of the posts on the anonymous location-based messaging app YikYak and other social media, threatened to “shoot every black person I see.”

November 11: Hunter M. Park, a 19-year-old sophomore studying computer science at a sister campus in Rolla, was arrested shortly before 2 a.m. at a residence hall for the anonymous social media posts. Some professors cancel classes, others do not, which sparks outrage from students and in one instance, resignation.