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Free speech group sues Indiana University over its bias reporting system: ‘unconstitutional’

A free speech nonprofit on Wednesday sued Indiana University, alleging its bias reporting system violates students’ and scholars’ First Amendment rights and chills open discourse on controversial topics.

Speech First argues the public university’s bias response reporting system “is an unconstitutional and far-reaching policy that is solely designed to deter, discourage, and otherwise prevent students from expressing disfavored views about the political and social issues of the day,” the group stated in a news release.

The university’s “Bias Incident Reporting” website defines a bias incident as “any conduct, speech, or expression, motivated in whole or in part by bias or prejudice meant to intimidate, demean, mock, degrade, marginalize, or threaten individuals or groups based on that individual or group’s actual or perceived identities.”

“A campus team of trained university officials privately reviews all submitted bias incident reports with responses typically 1-2 business days of reporting an incident,” the website adds, noting responses to bias reports may include some form of support, mediations, conversations and interventions.

Speech First, in its news release, called the system overreaching and troubling in many ways:

IU states that you don’t even have to experience the “bias” yourself. You merely have to witness an incident of “bias” or “observe it online” or just be “concerned, without being directly impacted”. Reportable offenses can occur on or off campus, including on social media. After a report is filed, the University maintains a record of all reports. Students accused of “bias incidents” can be referred for formal disciplinary proceedings and, as students have told us, reports on their records can be referenced at any time. One student reportedly was overlooked for promotion at their place of work on campus because of a Bias Incident Report on their record. That supposed report stated they had merely said something offensive.

The university’s bias response system was included in a wide-ranging investigation conducted by The College Fix several years ago looking into what types of incidents are reported to bias response teams on colleges and universities nationwide.

The Fix obtained 73 bias incident reports filed with the university in fall 2018 through a public records act request. The documents provided by Indiana University redact most of the personal identifying information.

Among the complaints, a TA complained her professor joked about the infamous Janet Jackson “nipplegate” Super Bowl incident when discussing Federal Communications Commission violations. Other complaints included:

· A woman standing by a clock near Ballantine Hall was reported for “slut shaming” women by calling the college “Indiana slut university.” The complainant wrote that “there is so much anger and animosity towards women and this group has no right to spread this hate on campus.”

· A student playing Fortnite in the Memorial Hall activity room was performing poorly in his game and referred to an opponent as “gay.” Another student told him that wasn’t okay and if he did it again, he would file a bias report against him. The student said it again, and a report was filed against him.

· A “trans feminine” student (her wording) showed up at an art class wearing lipstick. She thought the professor gave her a rude look, then after class, the professor walked over to another person in the room and made a comment the student couldn’t quite make out. But the other person responded, “We live in a gender free society and people can wear what they want,” leading the student to believe the professor made a comment about her not looking “totally masculine.”

· A student reported her white roommate when she overheard the roommate call a friend and say, “Get on Skype, what up my n*gga!” She explained to the woman she wasn’t comfortable with her using that word and the roommate left the room, slamming the door.

Speech First’s lawsuit against Indiana University comes after the Supreme Court decided in March not to take on the contentious issue of campus bias response teams, rejecting a review of a case brought by the nonprofit against Virginia Tech.

MORE: Janet Jackson’s nipple triggers bias complaint at Indiana University

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.