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Amherst student government threatens to derecognize College Republicans for mild private jokes

Administration says it doesn’t have authority, though

Not everyone was thrilled when Amherst College released a “Common Language Guide” last month that defined terms such as “isms,” claimed capitalism “leads to exploitative labor practices,” and even derided use of the term “equality.”

The College Republicans chapter joked about it in private GroupMe messages. The jokes were fairly mild, given the subject matter.

You can guess what happened next.

Their messages were leaked to the campus newspaper The Student, which published them. The student government’s Judiciary Council met privately last week and told the student body Tuesday that it’s forcing the CRs’ executive board members and members-elect to step down, The Student reports.

The Judiciary Council also claims to have the authority to ban the current and elected members from serving on executive boards for any other registered student organization “for the remainder of their college careers.”

And finally, it’s forcing them to publish a formal statement in The Student “affirming that they condemn hate speech specifically with regards to the widely circulated incident from their GroupMe before the end of the academic year.”

MORE: Amherst diversity office releases 40-page speech code

What did the CRs say? According to the messages published by The Student, they made jokes about the guide’s section on gender and identity, particularly its definition of “packing,” where a woman who identifies as a man wears “padding or a prosthesis to give the appearance of having a penis.”

One CRs member apparently attended a student meeting in the library to discuss the guide. That meeting was called after President Biddy Martin released a statement saying she didn’t approve of the guide because it was “prescribing a particular language and point of view.”

One comment in the private messages said: “Are they all planning on ‘packing’ in order to raise awareness?” Another claimed to have found a “bulk order prosthetic penis outlet.”

Before they obtained the guide, another member asked if they needed to convince the Queer Resource Center that “I’m questioning my gender choice to get access” to the guide. Another suggested telling the QRC that “you believe you have a ‘choice’ of gender,” which “should pass their entrance exam.”

The administration issued a mild rebuke to the Judicial Council Wednesday afternoon, but didn’t give any clarity to the College Republicans or students about whether the private liberal arts college protects even private freedom of expression.

An open letter from Hikaru Kozuma, chief student affairs officer, said neither the Judicial Council nor student government “has the authority to enforce the Amherst College Honor Code, which is cited as a foundational basis for the punitive measures that were announced.”

The Honor Code is extraordinarily broad, at least in the view of Daniyal Ahmad Khan, the council chair. He told students that the CRs committed “verbal abuse,” apparently on the basis of gender identity and expression, which is a “serious violation.” The Student doesn’t indicate whether the code defines “verbal abuse.”

MORE: Amherst settles due process suit with ‘blacked out’ male it called rapist

Not only are they usurping the authority of the Office of Community Standards, but the council and student government’s actions “may have ripple effects that are punitive of other students and student organizations,” Kozuma said: “To have their executive boards affected when there has been no related process for those organizations to access seems ill-advised.”

He cited possible “procedural anomalies” in the hearing as well, and questioned whether the council’s plan to require “sensitivity training” for all executive boards by next spring “is the best approach.

But Kozuma didn’t let the CRs off the hook yet for their private jokes. He said the college is “reviewing” the report submitted by the council that alleges violations of community standards.

Amherst media relations provided The College Fix the link to Kozuma’s letter but not any other comment.

The Fix has asked what’s the practical effect of Kozuma’s letter, since it only challenges the grounds for the council’s decision, and why Amherst has not simply told students explicitly they can’t be punished for their private, non-harassing expression.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education told The Fix it’s “gathering facts” about the situation.

Read news and opinion coverage by The Student, whose editorial board praised the council for punishing the CRs for their private speech.

MORE: Amherst ‘decolonization’ event features ‘white genocide’ professor

IMAGE: Can We Take a Joke screenshot

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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