A Fordham University student was reportedly put on probation Tuesday for posting two Instagram photos, one where he held up a gun to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre and another commemorating fallen St. Louis police officer David Dorn.
Fordham’s Dean of Students Keith Eldredge told rising senior Austin Tong that he was under investigation last month for the posts, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reported.
The first was a post from June 3 commemorating David Dorn, a retired black police officer killed during the riots in St. Louis. Tong, who described himself as a supporter of “Black Lives Matter,” captioned the photo “Y’all a bunch of hypocrites.” He said that he made the post to express his frustration over the “nonchalant societal reaction” to Dorn’s death, FIRE reported.
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In a second post June 4, Tong held up his reportedly legally-owned gun on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Tong, who is a Chinese immigrant, captioned the photo in part: “Don’t tread on me.”
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Tong was put on probation – meaning he can’t visit campus without permission, participate in athletics or hold leadership roles in student groups – after Fordham University found him guilty of “threats/intimidation” and “bias and/or hate crimes” Tuesday, according to FIRE’s report. He also reportedly has to go through implicit bias training and write a letter of apology.
Tong told FIRE what happened to him is a “total disgrace.”
“While what happened to me is a total disgrace, I hope to use my example as an opportunity for the millions of people out there that fear to freely speak, and to protest the serious case of speech censorship in college campuses,” he told FIRE.
“As the country is facing a disastrous constitutional crisis, it is no time to stay silent, and we have been silent for way too long,” he added. “It only takes the courage of the few to spark the patriotism of many. We will use this opportunity to let the world know that now is the time that we must speak loudly, fight for our rights, and let those who silence speech know they will face consequences.”
Program Officer Lindsie Rank wrote FIRE’s letter to Fordham criticizing their decision.
“While Fordham is a private university and thus not legally bound by the First Amendment, it is both morally and contractually bound to honor the explicit, repeated, and unequivocal promises of freedom of expression it has made to its students,” Rank wrote.
“When Tong immigrated to the United States from China at six years old, his family sought to ensure that he would be protected by the rights guaranteed by their new home, including the freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. Here, however, Fordham has acted more like the Chinese government than an American university, placing severe sanctions on a student solely because of off-campus political speech,” she added.
Fordham is currently appealing a court decision that found that the school violated their promise of freedom of expression when they censored a pro-Palestinian student organization, FIRE reported.
Tong announced on Instagram Friday that he is suing Fordham.
“After 3 days, @fordhamuniversity has arrogantly ignored media & us. No more waiting. I’ve decided to sue Fordham. Seeing all of your msgs, I know now that this will be a fight for many not one. Please donate to this fundraiser and we’ll get the fight started,” he said, linking to a GoFundMe page.