Brashier feeds FIRE

May 31, 2009

CCAC student Christine "Christa" Brashier claimed her First Amendment rights were violated when administration halted her distribution of pamphlets promoting concealed handguns on campus and her attempts to form a club supporting the same concept.

Brashier, 24, an Allegheny Campus student who aspires to become an elementary school teacher and is enrolled in the CCAC/IUP Elementary Education Collaborative, accused CCAC May 27, 2009, of threatening free speech and prohibiting rights to organize a CCAC chapter of the group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC).

"I won’t be told to sit down and shut up," Brashier told the Voice in a phone interview.

Brashier is supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan, non-profit Philadelphia-based organization. FIRE published a press release May 27, 2009, stating that Brashier "has been threatened with disciplinary action for her efforts."

"We hope that once the public knows about the mistake the CCAC administration made in denying one of its students her First Amendment rights, CCAC will reverse its decision and Ms. Brashier will be free to engage in expressive activities on campus," Robert Shibley, vice president of FIRE, told the Voice.

CCAC administrators were baffled by flying accusations and said Brashier’s First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly were not prohibited but rather she did not follow CCAC policy.

Anyone wishing to distribute printed materials on CCAC campuses must first obtain a stamp showing approval to distribute, and in order to form a club on any CCAC campus, formal paperwork must first be filed and approved.

"The Dean of Students and Office of Student Life at Allegheny were perfectly legitimate in asking her to cease and desist the distribution of pamphlets," CCAC North Campus Diversity Officer and Professor of History, Dr. Helen Schlatterer told the Voice.

"Her actions were solicitous because she distributed pamphlets to recruit members for a CCAC campus chapter of SCCC that had not been officially established. That does not mean the college said she could not speak about it. It just means the distribution of materials and formation of a club or organization must be approved."

Brashier’s self-generated tri-fold pamphlets list her as the "Campus Leader," feature a picture of a student holding a gun and incorporate CCAC’s name in direct affiliation with SCCC.

"Using the name of the college has a certain weight to it, and anything that has CCAC on it implies the college’s approval," Schlatterer said.

Brashier stated on her Internet forum, "I work in an office, and have the ability to print things which in any campaign of any kind is useful. I’m also fairly handy with a computer, and pretty accurate with a firearm."

Brashier told the Voice she has legally carried a Bersa Thunder .380 semi-automatic handgun since 2007 and has never had any lessons on gun handling or safety but plans to enroll in the fall.

When asked why she was so adamant about forming a club, she told the Voice, "I thought it would look nice on a college transcript."

Nina Lyons, Director of Student Life at North Campus, said CCAC absolutely upholds First Amendment rights, including free discussion on the right to carry concealed weapons on campus, but distribution of materials and recruitment for a campus club that is not established is against college policy.

"Talking about it and doing it are two different things," Lyons told the Voice. "When students come to me with interest in organizing clubs, I give them the paperwork and inform them of the process behind establishing a club."

Brashier said she was "interrogated" by Allegheny Campus Dean of Student Development Yvonne Burns and Student Development Specialist Jean Snider about the pamphlets and was asked to destroy all copies.

Brashier also told the Voice she had been in contact with Burns and thought she would not be in violation when handing out material.

"Whether or not people believe that Burns told me that I had to destroy pamphlets and said that she would never recognize the group at CCAC really doesn’t matter," Brashier told the Voice. "I have support now."

Brashier wrote on Campaign for Liberty’s website, a non-profit 501c4 lobbying organization, that Burns "feels it is okay to trample a paying students first, second, and fifth amendment rights and threaten academic probation to keep students from discussing a cause she dislikes."

Burns would not comment to the Voice about Brashier’s statements.

David Hoovler, CCAC Director of Public Relations told the Voice the college stands by its original statement that Brashier "never faced any disciplinary action from CCAC and remains in good standing at the College" and that "the student is welcome to follow the appropriate CCAC procedures to seek recognition of the proposed group as a student organization."

Hoovler also reiterated to the Voice "CCAC does not have any intention to limit the student’s involvement in the group or her ability to discuss her own political viewpoint."

Michael Stefanchik, Dean of Administration at North Campus, told the Voice that CCAC continues to uphold its current weapon policy and that the college’s stand on that policy is not likely to change.

Schools: Community College of Allegheny County Cases: Community College of Allegheny County: Student Denied Right to Start Advocacy Organization