COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Did Colorado College violate a student’s First Amendment right to free speech when it suspended him for six months for stating online that he doesn’t find black women attractive?
But some free speech advocates would probably urge him to do so.
On Nov. 9, an untold number of Colorado College students engaged in a Yik Yaks social media conversation regarding the topic “black lives matter,” according to a report from TheCollegeFix.com.
What was supposed to be a serious discussion reportedly turned raunchy and over-the-top, with a number of participants posting distasteful comments.
For instance, student Thaddeus Pryor said the conversation included a post describing white males as “dirty hippies” with undersized sexual organs who have sexual relations with relatives.
At one point the topic changed to “black women matter,” to which Pryor anonymously replied, “They matter, they’re just not hot.”
The next day several quotes from the online conversation – including Pryor’s remark about black women – were reproduced on full-sized banners and hung in the Student Center near a dean’s office, TheCollegeFix.com reported.
The next thing he knew, Pryor was brought before a disciplinary panel, and learned he had been accused by rumor of being the author of most of the controversial posts in the conversation, the news site reported.
Pryor admitted to writing the statement about black women, but denied writing anything else. And there is no way for the college to determine who wrote the other statements that Pryor did not accept responsibility for.
“Yik Yak is an anonymous social media application on smartphones that restricts posts to those within a geolocated boundary, like a college campus,” according to the Huffington Post. “While student have frequently protested in recent years over racist and offensive posts on the app, colleges have no way to identify who says anything on Yik Yak.”
College officials quickly moved to suspend Pryor.
“Senior Associate Dean of Students Rochelle Mason, Dean of Students Mike Edmonds and Assistant Dean of Students Cesar Cervantes decided in less than 24 hours that Pryor should be suspended for 21 months – the exact time it would take him to finish his degree – and prohibited from being on campus.”
Pryor appealed and his suspension was reduced to six months, but he still claims that college officials neglected his due process rights as defined by college policy, and essentially pronounced him guilty of authoring far more than the one post he accepted responsibility for.
Pryor said someone “misled” officials about the number of comments he posted, according to the news site.
“In a lengthy appeal letter to Edmonds, Pryor said he voluntarily admitted to posting the ‘not hot’ comment despite Mason and Cervantes having ‘no evidence’ other than hearsay that he was involved with the Nov. 9 posts,” TheCollegeFix.com wrote.
“He said the college violated its own rules – not only by failing to inform him of his alleged violations until he was sentenced, but by incorrectly recording in ‘sanction papers’ that Mason and Cervantes had even informed him of alleged violations of the ‘Student Code of Conduct.’
“During my hearing, rather than presenting me with my possible violations then investigating my actions and how they may have constituted those violations, I was simply treated as broadly guilty,” Pryor was quoted as saying.
Apparently private schools like Colorado College have more legal authority to censor speech than public schools, there remains a question about whether Pryor’s rights were violated.
A nonprofit called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) contend that the college violated a statement published in a student guide that says, “all members of the college community have such basic rights as freedom of speech,” the Huffington Post reported.
“Because Colorado College is a private institution, it generally does not have to grant the same First Amendment free speech rights that a public school would. However, FIRE insists the school’s statement about free speech in its college guide creates a ‘contractual obligation,’ according to the Huffington Post.