Johns Hopkins student appeals punishment for Facebook advertisement

January 11, 2007

A Johns Hopkins University student who was punished for an allegedly offensive advertisement he placed on the social networking Web site Facebook.com has had his sentence reduced after an appeal.

Advocacy group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education announced this month that Justin Park, the social chair of the local Sigma Chi fraternity chapter, was “satisfied with the results” of the appeal but wanted to keep the specific details of the appeal private.

In October, Park posted an advertisement on the social networking Web site Facebook.com for Sigma Chi’s “Halloween in the Hood” party. An administrator from the university’s Greek Affairs office asked Park to remove the posting after several students said it was offensive. The Halloween party took place on Oct. 28.

A letter from the university sent to Park after the party described the ads as containing “offensive racial stereotyping,” and that students also reported seeing “offensive decorations” at the event. After an investigation by the university, Park was found guilty of violating the university’s anti-harassment policies and was suspended for one year. As part of his suspension, the university required him to complete 300 hours of community service, read 12 books and write a reflection paper on the materials. Park was also required to attend a workshop on diversity and race relations.

Park appealed the suspension to the university, who reduced the punishment, according to FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. But any punishment at all is a disturbing precedent to set, Lukianoff said.

“We don’t think there should be any punishment for posting a Halloween invite that some thought was insensitive,” Lukianoff said.

Lukianoff said administrators who have taken to “policing” social networks such as Facebook.com blew the situation out of proportion.

“The point of a lot of young people’s humor is to push the envelope,” Lukianoff said. “This was a Halloween invitation that I think most students would have taken lightly.”

Lukianoff said Park, who began college three years ago at age 15, has decided to return to Johns Hopkins University, but would not comment as to when that would be.

A spokesperson from Johns Hopkins did not return phone calls before press time.

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