Dorm poster gets student kicked out

October 29, 2004

DURHAM – A University of New Hampshire sophomore was expelled from his dormitory last week for hanging a poster implying that freshman girls could avoid gaining the “freshman 15″ by using the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

Timothy Garneau, 20, of Berlin, said the poster was meant as a joke.

The university judicial system found that the computer-generated woman in the leotard and sweatband on Garneau’s poster was among the few smiling.

Garneau was found “responsible” for harassment, disorderly and lewd conduct, affirmative-action violations and lying to university officials about making the poster. He moved out of his double room on Sunday and is now living out of his Ford Contour in one of the university’s student parking lots. Garneau, a criminal justice and pre-law major, said he sleeps in a sleeping bag and takes the campus shuttle to class every day. His parents can’t afford to rent him an off-campus apartment, he said.

“The judicial program is kind of absurd,” Garneau said. “When they evict somebody, they don’t think of how much of an impact it will have on a person. It’s a lot of stress.”

UNH spokeswoman Kim Billings said the school could not comment on the incident because it involves a student’s record.

On Sept. 3, Garneau, who lived on the seventh floor of Stoke Hall, hung a poster in each of the dorm elevators that said, “9 out of 10 freshman girls gain 10-15 pounds.”The poster suggested that people who lived below the sixth floor should take the stairs: “Not only will u feel better about yourself but you will be saving us time and wont be sore on the eyes (sic).”

Garneau said he wrote the sign because some students, including himself, were annoyed that others were taking the elevator up one or two floors. The poster was meant to make light of the situation, not to offend anyone, he said.

“If you lived on seventh floor, it would take five minutes to get an elevator and then when you got on the elevator, it would stop at every floor,” Garneau said.

A resident assistant reportedly removed the posters within two hours. When Garneau was questioned by Stoke Hall Director Brad Williams, he lied and said he wasn’t responsible for the signs. “Two minutes later,” Garneau said he went back to Williams and admitted he made the posters. He said he didn’t confess at first because he feared Williams would blow the situation out of proportion.

Garneau had a hearing before the university judicial office on Oct. 8. A written decision from that hearing said female residents in the hall were upset and angry about the poster. It also said that male residents reported they “were pissed” and made comments such as “Women already have enough stuff to deal with. Why should they have to deal with this?”

The judicial office ruled that Garneau’s poster, which it said targeted women, was not taken as a joke. The university immediately expelled Garneau from housing and put him on disciplinary probation until May 2006. Garneau was ordered to meet with the counseling center to discuss the incident and to write a 3,000-word reflection paper.

Garneau was also required to pen an apology to the residents of Stoke Hall, something he had already done in the days following the incident. He also voluntarily put up a bulletin board in his dorm explaining harassment and how it affects others. During his hearing, Garneau offered to do community service, attend a program on making good choices and organize educational events. His suggestions were turned down. Documents suggest that Garneau was already on probation for a prior incident.

“There are so many other things to be evicted for than making a poster that was funny,” Garneau said. “To be punished that harshly for it was ridiculous.”

Garneau said he and his parents want the university to reconsider its decision. After he lost an appeal to the judicial office, Garneau contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit that protects free speech on college campuses. The organization sent a letter to UNH President Ann Weaver Hart Oct. 22 asking that the university lift the sanctions on Garneau and erase the charges from his record.

Greg Lukianoff, the organization’s director of legal and public advocacy, said he received a response from Anne Lawing, the vice president for student affairs at UNH, saying the university was looking into the content of the letter. Lawing did not return phone calls.

“Harassment is a serious pattern of behavior,” Lukianoff said. “To say that an arguably mildy offensive flier limited someone’s ability to get education, that’s pretty ridiculous.”

—— End of article

By MELANIE ASMAR

Monitor staff

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Schools: University of New Hampshire Cases: University of New Hampshire: Eviction of Student for Posting Flier