Administrators at a private college in Colorado have suspended a student for almost two years because he responded to the comment “#blackwomenmatter” by saying “They matter, they’re just not hot.”
The fracas occurred in November at Colorado College, a fancypants liberal arts enclave in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The forum for the exchange was Yik Yak, the anonymous social media app.
The student, Thaddeus Pryor, is also banned from campus until August 28, 2017, as a letter from associate dean of students Rochelle T. Mason makes clear.
In her letter, Mason explains that the reason for Pryor’s two-year suspension and total campus ban is to “educate one another” and to “provide an opportunity for growth and development.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free speech organization, has intervened on Pryor’s behalf. Late last month, FIRE representatives sent a letter to Colorado College president Jill Tiefenthaler urging her to abide by and “honor the explicit, repeated, and unequivocal promises of freedom of expression it has made to its students” in its own student guide, “The Pathfinder.”
“The Pathfinder” clearly states that “all members of the college community have such basic rights as freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of personal beliefs, and freedom from personal force and violence, threats of violence and personal abuse.”
As John Banzhaf, a famed public interest law professor at the George Washington University Law School, has explained, officials at private colleges cannot guarantee the right to public and private free speech and then take refuge in private status to punish students for speaking freely.
Colorado College’s “Rights and Responsibilities” language is, in essence, a contractual statement and cannot be eliminated on administrative whim in an ex post facto fashion.
“Any attempt to punish free speech which is now permitted can create legal liability,” Banzhaf told The Daily Caller in relation to a similar dustup. (RELATED: George Washington U. Emulates Satan-Fearing West Texas School District With Religious Symbol Ban)
Pryor’s six-word Yik Yak statement concerning his view that black women are not attractive was not directed at any particular person. Also, he says it was a joke.
“Colorado College’s disciplinary action toward Pryor — a 21-month suspension — for posting what was intended to be a joke on social media completely contradicts the school’s promises of freedom of speech,” FIRE spokesman Ari Cohn said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller. “The college’s punitive and heavy-handed overreaction to Pryor’s social media post will have a chilling effect on campus discourse.”
Pryor is apologetic but he thinks his punishment is draconian.
“In an academic climate that has become increasingly censored, the expression of a preference, in my case even a joking preference, is being squashed with impunity,” he said.
“I made a six word comment that I freely admitted to authoring,” the suspended student also said. “Thinking honesty was the first step to helping the community get past the incident. I support constructive discipline, but I believe the school’s reaction neither educates me on my act of insensitivity, nor benefits the community, nor consoles offended students, to whom I am extremely sorry.”
Pryor has appealed his two-year suspension and campus ban.
Last month, gay and transgender activists at Colorado College severely protested a campus showing of a film celebrating the gay activist movement. The activists said the film endangers their very lives because it stars a white male protagonist and, therefore, pushes lesbians, non-whites, and transgender individuals into the background. (RELATED: Students Demand Gay Activist Movie Be Cancelled For Being Too White, Gay)