In the midst of all of the discussion about free speech at Johns Hopkins, it is important to remember what is really at stake here: a young man’s future.
Justin Park, an 18-year-old Korean-American junior majoring in economics, entered Johns Hopkins at the age of 15 after skipping several grades in school. He has no previous disciplinary record. Until recently, he was the social chair of the Sigma Chi fraternity, and in that capacity he posted invitations to Sigma Chi’s Halloween party on the popular college website Facebook.com. Like many college Halloween parties across the country, Sigma Chi’s party had a theme. This year the theme was “Halloween in the Hood”; previous party themes included a “White Trash Trailer Bash” and a “Catholic Schoolgirl Party.” The invitations were nothing more than Justin’s attempt at the type of over-the-top humor popularized by television shows such as “South Park” and “Chappelle’s Show”—Justin told FIRE that the invitations were “so ridiculous that I thought nobody could take such a thing seriously.”
Unfortunately, the university took the invitations very seriously. For his joke gone awry, Justin now faces a yearlong suspension (during which time he cannot even set foot on campus), 300 hours of community service, and mandatory diversity training. Justin’s promising academic career is in serious jeopardy. As FIRE wrote in its most recent letter to Hopkins President William Brody:
The university’s actions here threaten to ruin a promising student’s career and to cement Hopkins’ reputation as the school where an insensitive joke can mean the end of all of a student’s hard work. This is not fair, this is not right, and this is not the way we deal with speech that offends us in a free society.
So please remember that there is a real person at the center of all this: Justin Park, a hard-working and bright young man whose future is hanging in the balance.