Are America’s institutions of higher learning are becoming hostile environments for freedom of speech? Do students lose their freedom of expression when they enter a public institution of higher learning? The Factual Feminist examines recent encroachment on students’ freedoms in the name of protecting women.
Some footage by Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
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In its April Fools’ Day 2013 spoof edition, the University of Alaska campus newspaper, the Sun Star, announced that the school was going to construct a new building in the shape of a vagina to “honor the schools 59 percent female demographic.” The story included a photo of a gynocentric construction taken from the 1998 Robin Williams movie Patch Adams . Campus gender activists were not amused. Guess what happened? That’s coming up on the Factual Feminist. The coordinator of Women’s and Gender Studies department, Jensine Anahita, was deeply offended by the April Fools’ spoof. She filed harassment charges, and accused the student paper of contributing to the “rape culture.” For nearly a year, the editor of the Sun Star (and author of the vagina building satire) Lakeidra Chavis and her staff were under a Title IX investigation cloud. The students were eventually exonerated. But the Gender Studies Coordinator’s complaint should not have taken months to investigate. Students don’t lose their freedom of expression when they enter a public institution of higher learning. The First Amendment remains in full force. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that there is no place where “the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms” is more vital. Justice William O. Douglas, a great champion of liberal causes, put it this way in 1952: “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us." Why un-American? Because in our free and open democracy—there is no Ministry of Truth. The founding fathers felt so strongly about that they not only enshrined freedom of expression in the Bill of Rights, they put it first on the list. There is no right not to be offended, challenged, or made uncomfortable. In fact the Court has also ruled emphatically that jokes, satire, and parody are a critical category of protected speech. Does that mean that everything is permitted—even verbal harassment of other students? No, the Court has recognized that sexual harassment can threaten a person’s equal right to an education. But it has set a high standard for what counts as peer harassment in an educational setting: to be actionable discrimination, sexual harassment has to be “so severe, pervasive, and so objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.” The vagina building joke in the Alaska student newspaper hardly qualifies.” America’s institutions of higher learning are becoming hostile environments for freedom. As the 2014 term began, a University of Missouri fraternity member dressed up as a Teletubby and paid a visit to an outdoor sorority rally and danced around near where the girls were standing. Concerned they might have a serious harassment issue on their hands, campus busybodies turned the Teletubby in to Title IX Coordinator Linda Bennet. To her credit, Bennet determined that his behavior did not constitute a Title IX violation. But at the same time, she sent around a memo warning students that they would be breaking the law if they engaged in activities such as telling off color jokes or making insulting sounds. Students were advised to police one another for infractions and report the names of violators to the authorities. This is not only madness. As Justice Douglas said, it is subversive and un-American. In our colleges and universities, campus officials are quietly amending the Constitution and creating their own definition of harassment and, free expression.
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