Campus Alert: Hassled at Hopkins

June 18, 2007

No school demonstrated greater contempt for the rights of its students this past school year than Johns Hopkins University. In fact, Johns Hopkins nearly destroyed the academic career of one student this past fall—and all because of the student’s constitutionally protected speech on an outside Web site.

In November, Johns Hopkins suspended 18-year-old Korean-American junior Justin Park for a year, requiring him to complete 300 hours of community service, attend a diversity workshop and read 12 books, writing a paper on each—all before being eligible for readmission. His crime? Posting an invitation for a “Halloween in the Hood” fraternity party on popular social-networking site Facebook.com that some found offensive.

While noting that his frat neither “condone[d] or advocate[d] racism,” Park’s invite was an attempt at intentionally un-PC ironic humor, asking attendees to wear “copious amounts of so-called ‘bling bling ice ice’” and listing rapper Ice-T as one of the party’s hosts.

Ignoring Park’s obvious if awkward jocular intent—and the fact that the speech in question was posted on a private Web site—Hopkins administrators threw the book at the young student. They charged him with harassment, intimidation and failing to respect the rights of others. He was found guilty after a sham trial in which Park’s “offenses” were judged by a panel that included a member of the student group that initially complained about Park’s invitation. (Under public pressure from FIRE and others, his punishment was eventually reduced.)

Hopkins wasted no time in instituting an impossibly vague new “civility” code on campus, which ominously warns students that “[r]ude, disrespectful behavior is unwelcome and will not be tolerated.” All this at a school that promises its students free expression.

After such a horrendous display, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has named Johns Hopkins our first “Red Alert” school. This ignominious distinction means that we strongly warn students and parents against enrolling at Johns Hopkins University, where a private joke gone wrong can lead to suspension or worse.

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Schools: Johns Hopkins University Cases: Johns Hopkins University: Student Punished for Party Invitation