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‘We cannot allow these actions to go unchecked’: Schools respond to offensive Internet video

Students were filmed saying racial slur; schools may discipline them

Multiple universities have indicated that they may discipline students who appeared in an offensive online video involving a racial slur. One expert says that the schools, all of them private, would be within their legal rights to sanction the students for their behavior.

The 10-second video features numerous individuals, most of them white, saying the word “nigger” one after the other. One student told The Bergen Record that the video “was actually recorded about a year ago and it resurfaced because nothing was done about it then.” The individuals in the video were allegedly attending Rutgers University, Monmouth University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rowan University at the time.

The Record obtained an email written by Monmouth University President Grey Dimenna in which he said that “it is abundantly clear that as a university that strives to be inclusive and respectful, we cannot allow these actions to go unchecked.”

Monmouth officials did not respond to queries from The College Fix about its policies regarding off-campus behavior. The school’s student handbook, however, indicates that students may be subject to disciplinary measures for behavior that occurs away from the school.

“[I]ndividuals who are members of the University community have a responsibility to represent themselves in a lawful and responsible manner at all times, both on and off campus. It would be unreasonable to suggest that a person committing a wrong act, on or off campus, which violated both the Student Code of Conduct and Criminal statutes, could not be punished by all injured parties, e.g., the citizens of the state or local community and the University,” the handbook states. The university would not clarify what constitutes a “wrong act” in this context.

‘Looking into the circumstances’

Some of the other universities in question indicated that they may seek disciplinary measures against the students.

Matthew Golden, a spokesman for the New Jersey Institute of Technology, said the school is “aware of the offensive video purported to involve students from several universities.”

“The content of that video is reprehensible, insensitive, and ignorant. NJIT does not tolerate hate speech, and the matter is being reviewed and addressed by our dean of students,” he said.

Rutgers University similarly indicated that it was looking into potential disciplinary measures.

“Rutgers is taking this matter seriously and is looking into the circumstances surrounding this disturbing video,” campus spokeswoman Dory Devlin told The Fix.

A statement from Rowan University’s president Ali Houshmand, meanwhile, slammed the offensive video.

“Each of us is entitled to free speech, but using such offensive language in any manner is contemptible,” he said.

“Offensive vocabulary and incivility strain and stain the fabric of our community. Whether or not Rowan students are involved, it is imperative for the University to express unequivocally that this type of language and disrespect have no place among us and will not be tolerated,” he added.

Campus spokesman Joe Cardona told The Fix via phone interview that the university initially did not know if any Rowan students were present in the video because the individuals in it are not wearing any university gear.

The university was subsequently given the name of the student who allegedly filmed the clip. Cardona said the school was attempting to contact the student prior to starting an investigation.

The law does not allow universities to talk about specific disciplinary actions taken against students, Carond said. He added that people sometimes “don’t see the end result and think nothing was addressed, but that is not the case.”

Private schools have latitude to discipline students for speech

Adam Steinbaugh, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told The Fix via email: “If the institution is a public university, it’s bound by the First Amendment, and speech cannot be penalized on the basis that it is highly offensive to others. If the institution is private, it’s bound to follow the promises that it makes, and many private institutions promise their students freedom of expression.”

“We’ve certainly seen students disciplined for offensive behavior that occurred off campus or in private,” Steinbaugh said, adding that “other institutions have mounted investigations into students’ online expression.”

“It’s not clear whether any of the schools here have disciplined or expelled students due to the video. While at least one institution has said that a student is no longer enrolled, it’s possible that the decision to leave the institution was voluntary or unrelated to this entirely. If, however, an institution pressured the student to leave under threat of discipline over an offensive video, it would be exceedingly difficult to square that pressure with the school’s legal obligations,” he said.

Since the video was posted to Twitter on May 21, it has been viewed over 115,000 times. Responses have been overwhelmingly negative.

A tweet by user @itsxxscharina read: “If you are bold enough to say it, be bold enough to accept the consequences @monmouthu. Here’s one of your students… and how he is representing our school.”

One user commented that the video was “disgusting and not ok.”

Another user wrote: “If people HONESTLY don’t see why this is a problem, you disgust me; PERIOD.”

MORE: Video shows Columbia student shouting racially charged messages

MORE: ‘Inappropriate’ YouTube videos will get you punished at this University

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About the Author
Maria is a sophomore at Franciscan University of Steubenville, double majoring in political science and communication arts. She enjoys being active in her church by being a cantor and volunteers at her local hospital and soup kitchen.

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