A student from Colorado College has been banned from the school campus and suspended for two years after posting a six word joke on the social media app “Yik Yak.” The joke was posted anonymously, but after investigation the student freely admitted to making it.
The student, Thaddeus Pryor, is banned and suspended from Colorado College until August 28, 2017. He is also forbidden from taking classes to obtain academic credit at other institutions.
According to Katie Barrows of FIRE, student Thaddeus Pryor posted the joke in response to the comment “#blackwomenmatter.” The student responded anonymously with “They matter, they’re just not hot.” The comment was made on November 15th, and on November 20th, the College determined that Pryor’s comment violated their policies on Disruption of College Activities and Abusive Behavior.
The Disruption of College Activities policy states:
Disruption of college business, activities, and academic courses is prohibited. Examples of violations of this policy include, but are not limited to:
Obstructing freedom of movement of community members or campus visitors, either pedestrian traffic or vehicular traffic;
- Causing noise or participating in a demonstration that disrupts the normal college activities (see the Protest and Dissent page for information about acceptable ways to protest and express dissent);
Leading or inciting others to disrupt scheduled or normal activities of the campus.”
Abusive Behavior is described as:
“… any act that endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or group, or which destroys or removes public or private property, or which produces ridicule, embarrassment, harassment, intimidation or other similar result. Spectators at athletic events should convey enthusiasm and team support; demeaning, disrespectful or vulgar behavior may be found to be in violation of this policy.”
Pryor has issued an appeal for his suspension, and has the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) backing him. FIRE sent out a letter on November 25th which urges the college to keep the promises of freedom of speech and expression that is given to all students. The student guide for the school states, “all members of the college community have such basic rights as freedom of speech….”
Ari Cohn, FIRE’s Senior Program Officer, contends that the twenty-one month suspension violates the promise made in the guide book. The student was posting the comment as a joke, according to Cohn, and the college over-reacted. He called the school’s reaction “punitive and heavy-handed” and stated that it would have an adverse effect on the discourse of the campus.
Colorado College is a private institution and is therefore not required by law to honor the First Amendment for its students. However, the guidebook promises to do so.
In a statement issued by Pryor, the student expresses his frustration at the political correctness of the incident. He calls the academic climate at Colorado College “increasingly censored,” and adds that the “expression of preference, in my case even a joking preference, is being squashed with impunity.” Pryor feels that to be banned for two years from studying at other universities is “unwarranted and unreasonable.” In his statement, Pryor apologized to any students whom he may have offended and admitted that constructive discipline was appropriate.
He does not feel that the school’s choice of discipline was constructive in this case.