free speech

UPDATED

An upcoming campus screening of American Sniper at the University of Missouri has drawn fire for potentially offending Muslim members of the community.

At the heart of the controversy is a Muslim student activist who declared showing the film on campus would make her feel “unsafe” and demanded an “apology and explanation” as to how and why the movie was even selected for Mizzou audiences.

The uproar was taken quite seriously, and prompted the student government to conduct a meeting to determine whether the flick should be shown.

“This film is blatant racist, colonialist propaganda that should not be shown under any circumstances and especially not endorsed by a branch of student government that purports to represent me and have my best interests in mind,” student Farah El-Jayyousi, former president of the Muslim Student Organization, had stated.

She made the comments in a letter to the editor to The Maneater earlier this month, denouncing the decision to show the blockbuster – the highest grossing film of 2014. El-Jayyousi accused the movie of dehumanizing Muslims and glorifying the murder of Iraqis, and referred to Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL featured in the film, as “a killer with no regard for human life.”

El-Jayyousi, described by the University of Missouri’s website as a psychology and women’s and gender studies double-major and social justice advocate, went on to declare in her letter:

I do not feel safe on this campus and for good reason. The fact that this film is being shown, the fact that I have to explain why this film is not only problematic but harmful makes me feel even more unsafe. Showing this film will create an even more hostile environment for me and other Arab, Muslim, South Asian and people of color on this campus.

I am requesting that this film not be shown and that it either be replaced with a film that does not glorify violence or support existing systems of domination and oppression, or an event addressing “American Sniper” and similar films and media texts using a critical lens. This film is blatant racist, colonialist propaganda that should not be shown under any circumstances and especially not endorsed by a branch of student government that purports to represent me and have my best interests in mind.

Lastly, I would like to clarify that this is not an attempt at censorship but an affirmation of my right to feel safe in my body and identity wherever I may be, including this campus. Freedom of speech should not come at the expense of anyone’s humanity and right to be viewed, talked about and treated with basic respect and dignity.

I am asking that this film not be shown and that an official, public apology and explanation be issued by all parties involved in approving the screening of American Sniper on Mizzou’s campus.

After its publication, the student government stated it received “numerous letters from students asking for the film to be cancelled.”

The Missourian reported that “many took offense to the article … [and] a common thread in the debate is the tension between free speech and a student’s right to feel safe on campus.”

The controversy prompted the student government to meet last week to discuss whether the screening should continue.

“At this moment we have not made a decision as to whether we are going to cancel the film or not,” Missouri Students Association President Payton Head had said at the time.

On Friday, after it met with “veterans and members of the Muslim community,” the students association finally weighed in, saying the movie will be shown as originally planned on April 17 and 18 – but promised to have some sort of event to help “cultivate an inclusive campus climate.”

“Throughout our discussion, many opinions were expressed both for and against showing this film on campus,” the student government stated. “MSA and other student organizations will utilize the screening to create new conversations about the issues presented in the film. We will use these conversations to help cultivate an inclusive campus climate.”

“Additional programming to educate the campus on these issues will be announced as plans come together.”

CORRECTION: The headline has been changed to reflect that only one Muslim student, the former president of the Muslim Student Organization, wrote a letter to the editor of The Maneater protesting the campus screening of American Sniper. The rest of the article has been updated to reflect that the student government reached out to members of the Muslim community in response to the student’s letter.

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Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College, says if the First Amendment protects the racist chants of members of the Oklahoma chapter of the SAE fraternity, then “[he] dissents.”

“The chant was a spew of hatred, a promise to discriminate, a celebration of privilege, and an assertion of the right to violence–all wrapped up in a catchy ditty. If the First Amendment has become so bloated, so ham-fisted, that it cannot distinguish between such filth and earnest public debate about race, then it is time we rethink what it means,” he writes.

Appearing to draw upon facets of Critical Race Theory, Greenfield says that the way we interpret free speech today “forces the most marginalized among us to bear the costs of the bigots’ speech.”

From The Atlantic:

No one with a frontal lobe would mistake this drunken anthem for part of an uninhibited and robust debate about race relations. The chant was a spew of hatred, a promise to discriminate, a celebration of privilege, and an assertion of the right to violence–all wrapped up in a catchy ditty. If the First Amendment has become so bloated, so ham-fisted, that it cannot distinguish between such filth and earnest public debate about race, then it is time we rethink what it means.

… Counterspeech is exhausting and distracting, but if you are the target of hatred you have little choice. “Speak up! Remind us why you should not be lynched.” “Speak up! Remind us why you should not be raped.” You can stay silent, but that internalizes the taunt. The First Amendment tells us the government cannot force us either to remain silent or to speak, but its reliance on counterspeech effectively forces that very choice onto victims of hate speech.

Yet is the slippery slope so slick that we cannot fathom any restrictions on the worst speech? Is the slope so steep that we cannot recognize the harms flowing from assertions of privileged hatred subjecting whole populations to fear of violence? Does it really risk tyranny to expel a couple of racist punks?

Professor Greenfield may not think so, but to that last line I offer this quote:

You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”

Though the words come from a fictitious character (yes, I’m a big fan) , the warning is anything but.

In addition, favoring a constriction of rights seems a bit odd for a professor who in the past defended the right of polygamous and incestuous marriages.

Read the full article.

h/t to John Podhoretz.

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IMAGE: Sam Graham/Flickr

Michael Marshall, a student at Ohio University who was suspended for a semester due to his text messages to a female student, has now sued the college.

Marshall had met the girl in 2013 after he had transferred to the Honors Tutorial College. In the fall of the following year, the duo would “meet for studying and work-related discussions.”

That’s when Marshall began to “attempt to convince” the girl to begin a romantic relationship.

The Post reports:

On Oct. 3, Marshall texted the female student saying: “I don’t know now what you think or feel. What I do know is that you are fabulously attractive and fabulously intelligent in that I know I can tell you all this and that nothing will change between us…”

The female responded that she “liked him a lot, but in a platonic way.”

Between Oct. 12 and late November, Marshall would continue to text the female in an attempt to convince her to be romantically involved with him, though they maintained a “friendly and cordial” relationship in class, according to court documents.

On Nov. 18, OU’s Office for Institutional Equity was notified of a complaint against Marshall, and the female alleged that her academic environment had been disrupted, though she didn’t feel unsafe. On Dec. 12, Marshall was notified that the office would be continuing with an investigation into the allegations. He was then suspended for a semester.

Marshall’s attorneys are now saying that OU’s sexual misconduct policy violates free speech, according to court documents, and that his constitutional rights have been violated.

Court documents show that “the gender of the alleged victim was the motivating factor in the decision to impose harsh discipline upon Marshall.”

Attorneys said the atmosphere at the school is one “where those who lodge a complaint of sexual assault are immediately treated as ‘survivors.'”

Read the full article.

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It was a class that sought to teach students their “ethical obligations toward … animals and non-sentient nature.”

It was a class that aimed to “explore the relationships between aesthetical, ethical and social aspects of local/global environmental issues.”

It was a class that strived to introduce students to “the issue of waste as a product of a consumer society through reading a social history of trash as well as viewing films about how waste is conceived …”

But perhaps most notably, it was a mandatory class foisted upon honors freshman at Eastern Michigan University, a weekly session that ran from 9 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. every Friday last semester.

It was all too much for the students forced to show up bright and early and listen to the team-taught environmentalism class, aptly titled “Interdisciplinary Exploration of Global Issues: Space/Pace, Purity/Danger, Hope/Activism.”

The students took to Yik Yak to bemoan their situation, a bit of activism of their own that eventually helped get the class thrown into the garbage pile.

University spokesman Geoff Larcom confirmed the course’s fate to The College Fix.

“The class in question is not being held this semester,” Larcom said. “An assessment is under way of other effective models for bringing high-level interdisciplinary programs on global issues to our freshman honors students.”

That Yik Yak helped get the controversial class nixed is a new phenomenon that has caught the eye of some scholars.

“Honor students at Eastern Michigan University, angry about a course with mandatory 9 a.m. Friday 3-hour sessions seemingly designed in part to indoctrinate as much as to teach, have apparently nixed the experimental program … and caused at least 2 of the 3 professors involved to refuse to teach it becauseproftp of adverse comments on Yik Yak,” opined George Washington University professor John Banzhaf, a public interest law professor who frequently weighs in on issues of national debate.

“While the faculty union is in an uproar, demanding measures like punishment for the offending students and a ban on Yik Yak, at least some professors say it shows how a simple exercise of free speech can help overcome the traditional imbalance of faculty-student power in the classroom, and be a teaching tool,” Banzhaf continued in a news release.

“Although virtually all of the power to control what is said in a classroom traditionally lies with the professor, and both colleges and individual faculty members can choose to indoctrinate more than teach, Internet-based tools like Yik Yak can help redress the imbalance, empowering students to freely express contrary and unpopular views – and even criticize their teachers – especially if the teachers appear to be both unprepared and to stifle discussion,” the law professor stated.

Yik Yak is a smartphone app that lets users who are near each other post anonymous messages, and it has quickly become a popular “place” where college students ridicule each other and their professors on a regular basis on campuses nationwide.

As for this particular Eastern Michigan University class, students upset at the direction of the course – its apparent haphazard format and biased subject matter – took their anger out on Yik Yak, in particular posting disparaging comments about the female scholars who co-taught the course.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, one of the course’s teaching assistants showed a professor a screenshot of some of the messages posted on Yik Yak during the class. Students who had just sat through it wrote more than 100 messages about the professors, which included vulgar insults.

Even some of the teaching assistants had launched Yik Yak attacks, the Chronicle reported. One of the professors even threatened to quit if she had to put up with the ridicule again.

The situation quickly evolved into a labor dispute, with professors demanding that the university administration track down the students and punish them. The professors’ union wanted the administration to do more to protect faculty from this type of online harassment.

Susan Moeller, president of the EMU American Association of University Professors chapter, sent an email to faculty regarding the “serious issue” they were confronting. EMU professor Steven Krause posted the full email in a blog post on his personal website.

“Serious student misconduct occurred in an honors class this past Fall term,” Moeller wrote in the email. “Students used an application called YIK YAK to sexually harass and defame three women faculty members. The YIK YAK application is a way for students to anonymously cyber-bully people within a 1.5 – mile radius.”

The email went on to call the students’ actions a “violation of the acceptable use policy and the sexual harassment policy at EMU.”

“We are in favor of free speech, but we are against using YIK YAK and other social media for sexual harassment and threatening faculty in the classroom,” Moeller wrote.

The university, however, contended that it is not possible for them to hunt down and punish the students, given the nature of the app’s anonymity.

Moreover, Krause notes Moeller’s characterization of Yik Yak is “just flat-out wrong,” adding, “describing Yik Yak as a way of ‘anonymous cyber bullying’ people is sort of like saying than an automobile is a way to kill people. Sure you can use it for that, but is that the point? The answer is no for both.”

And Banzhaf pointed out not all professors agreed with the concerns of their Eastern Michigan University peers.

“Other EMU professors were also critical of the three complaining faculty members and their union’s position. They noted that the [students’ Yik Yak] comments ‘centered on how disorganized two instructors were, how unwilling those instructors were to allow class discussion, how repetitive the material was,’ and that one professor became so angry she ‘abandoned the class to teaching assistants’ – normally a firing offense,” Banzhaf noted.

“It also appears that part of the students’ anger – in addition to the mandatory 3-hour Friday morning meetings, teacher disorganization, and their refusal to permit certain discussions – was that the students saw the course as more indoctrination, and perhaps a mishmash, than real and valuable education,” he added.

In an extended interview with The College Fix, Banzhaf said that the course description imposes the viewpoint that humans have “ethical obligations toward … animals and non-sentient nature.”

“I doubt that most people, or even most professors, would agree that we all have ethical obligations towards trees, rocks, mountains, etc. – that’s at most an opinion, and almost certainly a minority opinion,” Banzhaf said. “The stated purpose of a course should never to be tell people what their ethical obligations are, especially in controversial areas.”

In addition, he said, the fact that the professors seem to have little or no experience in the field means they most likely picked up that slack by giving their opinions – “in other words, indoctrination rather than teaching,” he said.

The course was taught by professors in three totally unrelated fields: Margaret Crouch (Philosophy), Heather Khan (Geography/Geology), and Elisabeth Daumer (English), he noted.

Reached for comment, Krause declined an interview request from The College Fix.

College Fix reporter Andrew Desiderio is a student at The George Washington University.

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IMAGE: Fox 10 screenshot

An op-ed by the USC Daily Trojan’s Nathaniel Haas has been one of the more “popular” articles on that publication’s website over the last few days.

In it, Haas argues that the hypocrisy of “some” campus College Republicans “knows no bounds” … because of some commentary from the group’s Facebook page regarding radical Angela Davis’s speech last Monday.

One of these statements said “[Davis] has no place on our campus and should have never been invited to speak” and had an accompanying graphic which read “Shame on the groups responsible for bringing murderer communist Angela Davis to USC tonight.”

These have since been removed from the College Republican Facebook page.

Haas continues:

The College Republicans hosted Ann Coulter on campus two years ago, a speaker whose bigotry toward race, the Muslim religion and sexual orientation is well known. Viewed in the most positive light, their statements about Davis are blatantly hypocritical. At worst, they are a gross form of offensive character assassination.

The worst thing about arguing that Davis should not have been invited is that it places disagreement with Davis’ opinion on a higher pedestal than a defense of her First Amendment right to express that opinion. Given their devotion to the Constitution, one would expect the College Boat Shoe Club to be extra-staunch defenders of Davis’ right to free speech, but the only support they gave to those seeking to be heard was to their own members:

“It is important that the voices of those students who do not agree with Davis, and her presence on campus are heard!” another Facebook post read.

Haas goes on to compare the group to the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy, and highlights the opinion of the former director of the Black Student Assembly, Ama Konadu, who said the campus group’s statement — that “The African-American students in the USC College Republicans are particularly disheartened that Davis has been branded as a leader in the Black community …” — reminded her of the saying “I’m not racist, I have black friends.”

Konadu went to say “Black Republicans are so prideful in the country and systems that have oppressed our people since day one and that continue to do so.”

The College Republicans released a statement on their Facebook page in response to Haas’s column.

The group notes that their main objection was the use of student fees — which every student pays to the university — to compensate Ms. Davis for her appearance:

Mr. Haas furthered his already false argument by calling into question an event held by the USC College Republicans in which Ann Coulter spoke. We would like to point out that this event was paid for in full by our own club, through generous donations, and from grants. At no point did we ask to University Student Government, the Program Board, or any of numerous student assemblies, all of which are funded by USC tuition dollars, to pay for our event. This is in stark contrast to the Angela Davis event, in which the entire student body was forced into paying for her speaking fees.

They also point out that they removed the aforementioned photo (and graphic) of Davis from their Facebook page due to “numerous comments attacking African American members of [the] club.”

“We felt that these comments were distracting from our official statement expressing our displeasure with Davis’s presence on campus, and with the fact that the student body was forced to foot the bill for her speech,” the statement says.

Read Haas’s full column and the full College Republican statement.

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The Columbia Daily Spectator student newspaper will no longer provide comment sections for articles dealing with sexual assault.

Columns dealing with the topic dating back to May of last year also will have their comment sections closed.

Spectrum (a section of the Spectator) reports:

We value the many comments readers have on our stories. When done thoughtfully, comments can further conversations in ways that add insights and provide new perspectives to our stories. Moreover, comments are the most direct way for readers to give feedback to Spectator, which is central to our ongoing goal to improve our coverage.

However, the comments on our opinion pieces related to sexual assault have not been used for these purposes. Instead, anonymous commenters and internet trolls have used this space to spread hate, vitriol, and ad hominem attacks on writers and members of our community rather than offering commentary on the content of the piece or on the complex issue of how to address sexual assault on our campus.

Surprisingly, the comments are open at the Spectrum article, and there’s plenty of folks letting the Spectator know how they feel about the new policy.

Read the full article.

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