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College watchdog group releases report on campus censorship

Study examines ‘impulse to hide upsetting artwork rather than grapple with its message’

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education this week released a lengthy report on several decades’ worth of campus censorship, highlighting instances in which universities indulged in “the all-too-common impulse to hide upsetting artwork rather than grapple with its message.”

The report, titled “One Man’s Vulgarity,” examines “just how far campus censors are willing to go to stifle artistic freedom instead of grappling with a work’s meaning,” the organization said in a news release.

“The art covered in the report represents a broad swath of viewpoints and perspectives; the only common thread is the censorship their messages provoked,” FIRE said.

Among the examples cited by the group:

  • A university in Massachusetts temporarily closed an art exhibit because images of the Ku Klux Klan and Jews arrested during World War II — intended to emphasize the connections the artist saw between President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and historical efforts to oppress minority groups — caused “distress.” The school later put one of the images behind drapes and apologized if the art inspired “strong emotions” for some who viewed it.

  • A South Carolina university charged a student with disorderly conduct and threatened expulsion for an anti-lynching display that the university said was “contrary to [its] values,” prompting FIRE to write to the university and ensure the charges were overturned.

  • A college in Florida refused to display a professor’s anti-Trump artwork because it was “too controversial.”

  • A California university shut down an anti-racism play about how the construct of race affects the performers’ lives because the satirical production “wasn’t achieving the goal of constructing a dialogue.”

Though in some instances “universities restored the artwork and others displayed a modified version,” still in many cases “the art was purged completely, and thoughtful discussion was traded for empty frames and closed curtains.”

Read the whole report here.

MORE: Yale cites ‘colonial violence’ in decision to take down censored artwork

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