COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., January 19, 2016—Yesterday, students at Colorado College arrived back on campus for the new semester. Sadly, one Colorado College student still isn’t able to join his classmates thanks to a six-word joke he posted in November on the social media application Yik Yak.
The joke was an anonymous reply to the comment “#blackwomenmatter” and read: “They matter, they’re just not hot.” Thaddeus Pryor admitted to a Colorado College administrator that he was responsible for authoring the post and explained that he meant the comment as a joke. On November 20, 2015, Colorado College found that Pryor had violated its “Abusive Behavior” and “Disruption of College Activities” policies and suspended him for two years. On appeal, and after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) intervened, the college reduced the suspension to six months.
Under the terms of Pryor’s suspension, he is banned from campus and unable to attend classes. He is also forbidden from taking classes at other institutions for academic credit in the meantime. During his suspension, Pryor has been working multiple jobs.
FIRE wrote to Colorado College’s Board of Trustees on January 15, urging them to immediately reinstate Pryor. Although Colorado College is a private institution, and thus is not bound by the First Amendment, it promises free speech to its students—a promise it has broken by suspending Pryor solely for his expression. On November 25, 2015, FIRE first urged the college to honor its moral and contractual commitment to free speech in a letter to Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler. After Tiefenthaler failed to respond, FIRE reached out to the trustees.
“An arbitrary six-month suspension that violates Colorado College’s promise of free speech is better than a two-year suspension, but it’s still unacceptable,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Ari Cohn. “By twisting its policies to fit the desired outcome, Colorado College has rendered its promises to students utterly meaningless. The trustees now have a chance to ensure that Colorado College’s word actually means something by allowing Pryor to come back to class immediately.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com