This Month in FIRE History: Controversy at Colorado College

By on March 18, 2011

Three years ago this month, FIRE began a battle for free speech and individual rights at Colorado College that continues to this day.

FIRE first became involved at Colorado College when the school targeted two students for distributing a parody mocking a Feminist and Gender Studies program newsletter, "The Monthly Rag," a publication that had included a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn" by a "world-famous prostitute and porn star," an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto. In response, the two students had produced their own flyer titled "The Monthly Bag." Published by "The Coalition of Some Dudes," the newsletter included references to "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, a quotation regarding a sexual position from the website menshealth.com, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse" of men from the website batteredmen.com. As Greg has pointed out, a side by side comparison shows that it "could not be clearer that the Bag is merely making fun of the Rag."

According to the school, however, the parody included "threatening and demeaning content" that violated Colorado College’s policy on "violence." After a sham disciplinary procedure, the students were found in violation of the policy and required to hold a forum on campus dedicated to discussing the problematic culture their flyer had supposedly helped promote. As FIRE pointed out at the time and has repeatedly argued since, the reaction of the college administration was a classic case of double standards and selective censorship. Not only did the school target clearly satirical language, it also chose to punish the "violent" language of chainsaws, but not of male castration.

Colorado College’s actions earned the school a spot on our Red Alert List, where it unfortunately has remained since 2008. Despite ongoing pressure from FIRE, the school refuses to back down from its claim that such expression is punishable. FIRE has continued to point out the school’s behavior, recently placing it on our list of the 12 worst schools for free speech published in The Huffington Post

We hope that continuing negative publicity like this, along with the departure of President Richard Celeste, will motivate Colorado College to overturn its previous decisions and reaffirm the value of the free speech on campus. Until then, students attending or thinking of attending Colorado College should be aware that it does not honor its promises of free speech.

Schools: Colorado College Cases: Colorado College: Students Found Guilty for Satirical Flyer