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Speech Code of the Month: Murray State University

By April 1, 2008

The Women’s Center at Murray State maintains a guide to sexual harassment that provides students with numerous examples of sexual harassment, including (among others):

  • “Calling a person a doll, babe, or honey”
  • “Making sexual innuendoes”
  • “Telling sexual jokes or stories”
  • “Turning discussions to sexual topics”
  • “Looking a person up and down (elevator eyes)”
  • “Displaying sexual and/or derogatory comments about men/women on coffee mugs, hats, clothing, etc.”

Harassment by a coffee mug? Really?

In all seriousness, many universities maintain these ludicrous lists of prohibited conduct (see Davidson College, our March 2006 Speech Code of the Month, for another example), and such lists often transform otherwise acceptable sexual harassment policies into unconstitutionally overbroad ones. Murray State is just such an example; while the stated definition of sexual harassment is “conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working/learning environment,” the subsequent list of prohibited conduct (and beverage paraphernalia) would lead anyone reading the policy to believe that the examples on that list were prohibited outright, regardless of whether they rose to the level of severity and pervasiveness necessary to constitute actual harassment.

As a public university, Murray State cannot lawfully prohibit speech protected by the First Amendment, but this policy does just that. For this reason, Murray State University is our April 2008 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college or university should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email speechcodes@thefire.org with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code.

Schools: Murray State University