SU’s STOP Bias Program Endangers a Wide Swath of Protected Speech

By November 29, 2010

Last week, Adam wrote about Syracuse University (SU) encouraging its students to help them crack down on "offensive" Halloween costumes and other "bias incidents" as part of its STOP Bias program. 

To help students detect "bias incidents," SU has a webpage that defines bias and provides examples. The definition and exampleswhich include things like "telling jokes" and "stereotyping" on the basis of "political or social affiliation"are both laughably broad.

The STOP Bias program could silence a large amount of fairly innocuous speech. As FIRE supporter Betsy Speicher comments on our Facebook page:

According to the Syracuse University web page "What is bias" (http://www.syr.edu/currentstudents/stopbias/whatisbias.html), a girl is guilty of "bias" if she refuses to date married men. She is "avoiding or excluding others" "because of their actual or perceived … marital status."

Unfortunately, Betsy’s right, and we at FIRE commend her for pointing out the ludicrous implications of the STOP Bias program. Building on her example, the same girl would also be guilty of "bias" if she made a joke about marriage because "telling jokes" about someone’s "actual or perceived … marital status" also constitutes a bias incident! (Adam cites some other ridiculous potential examples of "bias incidents" in his blog post.)

Clearly, students shouldn’t be punished for possessing certain beliefs and values or telling offensive jokes. Not only is the STOP Bias program morally wrong, it goes against SU’s own stated promises of free speech. We at FIRE implore Syracuse University to stop controlling its students’ words and thoughts so that it can be the robust marketplace of ideas that a college is supposed to be.

Schools: Syracuse University Cases: Syracuse University: Police Threaten to Censor Halloween Costumes