Iowa State University: Punishment of Club Lacrosse Team for Social Media Photo of University Vehicle in Front of Marijuana Dispensary


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Case Overview


On November 13, 2022, the ISU Barstool Instagram account posted a photo of an ISU vehicle, rented by the club lacrosse team, parked in front of a marijuana dispensary in Colorado. The team was unaware that someone took the photo and sent it to ISU Barstool, an account unaffiliated with the team or university. No team member patronized the dispensary. On December 8, ISU suspended the team from using personal or university vehicles for team travel, alleging the photo reflected poorly on the university and potentially damaged its reputation. FIRE wrote ISU on February 3, 2023, explaining that the university cannot punish students for the unauthorized actions of third parties and how the First Amendment protects expression that may embarrass the university.

ISU responded on February 10, claiming it imposed punishment based on a team member recklessly driving to a game and not the photo. On February 21, FIRE countered that ISU’s characterization of the sanctions runs contrary to the timeline of the disciplinary action and what administrators told the team. On March 8, ISU refused to lift the sanctions.