Here at FIRE, when we talk about the obligations of private universities to protect students’ individual rights, what we most often talk about is the importance of truth in advertising. As private institutions, private colleges and universities have the right to define themselves as they see fit. However, once a university defines itself in a certain way—for example, as an institution that values freedom and equality—it must honor its promises to students who have chosen to attend that university based on its particular self-definition.
Currently, FIRE is challenging Hampton University—which recently denied recognition to a gay and lesbian student group
—to live up to its promise
of being an institution that supports “equal rights and opportunities for all regardless of age, sex, race, religion, disability, ethnic heritage, socio-economic status, political, social, or other affiliation or disaffiliation, or sexual preference.” Inside Higher Ed covered the Hampton story
yesterday, and in the reader comments section of that article, a Hampton student wrote a poignant response to another student’s comment that illustrates the importance of truth in advertising far better than anything I can say:
I understand you think homophobia on the campus isn’t as bad as it is. But as a gay student here at [Hampton], all I can say is you are wrong. You are dead, dead wrong. It hurts being on campus most days. It hurts like hell. And I hope you and the other students in power will really help to change that one day. In the meantime, many of us are suffering. We are regretting we came here under false pretenses of equality. We are sad. (Emphasis added).