Penalty reduced over ‘hood’ party

January 9, 2007

Johns Hopkins University officials have substantially reduced the punishment of a student suspended for posting online a “Halloween in the Hood” fraternity party invitation, according to an education foundation group that protested the university’s actions.

The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said yesterday that Justin H. Park, a junior and former Sigma Chi fraternity member, contacted it with the results of the appeal.

According to Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, Park said that he was satisfied with the outcome but wanted it to remain private.

“It’s a substantial change,” said Lukianoff. “But the fact that there’s any punishment at all, we oppose.”

Reached by phone yesterday, Park declined to comment.
Park had been appealing a Student Conduct Board decision that suspended him from the university until January 2008, during which time he couldn’t come onto campus. The punishment also required him to complete 300 hours of community service, read 12 books and write a paper on each, and attend a workshop on diversity.

Because of a federal privacy law, the university cannot discuss disciplinary actions involving individual students. University spokesman Dennis O’Shea said appeals of Student Conduct Board decisions go to the dean of student life.

The controversy stems from an invitation Park posted on the Facebook Web site to an Oct. 28 Sigma Chi fraternity party. The invitation described Baltimore as “the HIV pit” and encouraged attendees to wear “regional clothing from our locale” such as “bling bling ice ice, grills” and “hoochie hoops.”

A university official asked the fraternity to take the posting down, but a similar version appeared shortly after, according to a summary of findings from a university investigation.

Members of the Black Student Union who attended the party took pictures of a skeleton pirate hanging from a noose, which they viewed as symbolic of a lynching.

But a report by the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action concluded that the skeleton pirate was meant to represent the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.

The invitation and pictures of the skeleton pirate sparked a polarizing debate at Hopkins and beyond, with members of the Black Student Union and larger community protesting the invitation and saying it exemplifies a larger problem with race relations on campus.

On the other side, Sigma Chi members and friends of Park protested in the name of free speech, saying the university’s actions unfairly punished Park for a satirical invitation.

Park was expelled from Sigma Chi. A separate Student Conduct Board hearing resulted in the Sigma Chi fraternity being placed on social probation until January 2008, meaning it is barred from holding parties and other social events.

Despite Park’s satisfaction with his appeal, officials with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education say they still oppose the university’s implementation of a set of proposed “Principles for Ensuring Equity, Civility and Respect for All.”

“That’s a remarkably overbroad code that they’ve recommended,” said Lukianoff. “That’s perfectly fine for a university to aspire for, but as a rule that is a disaster for free speech. I think everyone understands that there are some issues … they don’t have an overarching duty to be polite about.”
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Schools: Johns Hopkins University Cases: Johns Hopkins University: Student Punished for Party Invitation