Brandeis University: Student Journalists Cleared of Charges for Reporting on Sexual Assault Awareness Event

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Brandeis University

After intervention from FIRE, Brandeis University decided not to punish three student journalists for publishing an article about a campus event, and will reform its conduct code. The article about 2015’s ‘Take Back The Night’ march sparked an almost year-long controversy for student newspaper The Justice, marked by formal disciplinary charges from the university, a threat of legal action from outside attorneys, and demands from students and administrators that coverage of the event be removed from the paper’s website. In March 2016, nearly a year after the article was published, the student journalists were charged with violating Brandeis’ “Electronic Device and Privacy” policy after a complaint was filed alleging that one of the student journalists recorded stories shared by students at the march and published an article containing anonymous quotes from students without first obtaining their consent.

On March 23, FIRE wrote to Brandeis and explained that openly recording a public event, and then accurately and anonymously quoting students who spoke publicly at that event, does not constitute an invasion of privacy. FIRE also noted that the recording did not violate the Massachusetts law that Brandeis’ policy is intended to mirror. On March 28, 2016, Brandeis announced that it would terminate the disciplinary procedure against the student journalists, and review the Electronic Device and Privacy policy.