Lewis & Clark College, a private university in Portland, Oregon, disciplined two students — one black, one white, both football players — because they joked about race while playing beer pong at a dormitory party.
The black student named his two-man beer pong team, “Team Nigga.” His partner was the white student. They shouted “Team Nigga,” after they scored. Later, the black student asked, in joking fashion, “Can I get a ‘white power!'” His friend responded by cheering, “White power!” (RELATED: ANOTHER university stops students from handing out Constitution)
No one at the party was offended. The pair ran afoul of a random person who happened to be walking by the dorm room, however. This person reported the pair to college administrators, according to Campus Reform.
Administrators launched an investigation, and eventually accused the pair guilty of using racially inflammatory language. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a review board deemed them guilty of the following charges:
Based on their actions at the party and earlier, both students were found responsible for all the violations with which they were charged, including recklessly causing physical or mental harm or reasonable fear thereof; creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment; and engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct.
The students were placed on probation for up to a year, and warned that further infractions could result in severe penalties. The university also forced them to attend sensitivity training, marketed as “bias reduction and bystander intervention training,” Oregon Live reported.
They appealed the decision, but were turned down by L & C administrators Kelly Hoover and Tricia Brand, who wrote: “Your use of racially charged language, intentional or not, was reckless and created an environment where others in the space felt it was necessary to correct your behavior. More broadly, your actions caused reasonable apprehension of harm to the community.” (RELATED: Student government deems University of Utah fight song racist, sexist)
Incorrect behavior or not, the university was wrong to punish the students, said FIRE’s Peter Bonilla in a statement.
“I think universities are prone to taking incidents like these and thinking the solution is simply to go after and ban the offending language and punish its speakers, trampling on their right to free speech in the process,” said Bonilla, director of FIRE’S Individual Rights Defense Program, in a statement to Campus Reform. “Most universities will say that they share dual commitments to free speech and to the ideals of diversity, civility, and inclusion. But when incidents like this bring those into conflict, universities often seem to think they have to pick one over the other, and free speech often loses out when they do.”
As a private university L & C is not obligated to extend First Amendment speech rights to its students. FIRE’s position, however, is that institutions of higher education should cherish free speech, anyway.
“There is this creeping sense that it is a university’s job to protect its students from being offended,” he said in a statement to Oregon Live. “It’s not. A university is a haven of free ideas. There should be a lot of room to be offended and have our ideas challenged.”
The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and declined comment to other publications. (RELATED: Student EXPELLED for forgetting to leave his hunting gun at home)