University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Suppression of ‘Racist’ Speech


University of Massachusetts - Amherst

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Case Overview


The University of Massachusetts at Amherst campaigned to persecute nine students who were seen in photographs containing a caricature of one of them as the "Grand Wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan. At a post-election party following the Student Government Association (SGA) elections, Patrick Higgins, a student defeated in a race for SGA President during which he was labeled a "racist," was in attendance. Another student, in an effort to mock the charges of racism, drew a caricature of Higgins as a member of the Ku Klux Klan on a dry-erase board. A photo was taken of the caricature and later circulated around campus. After controversy erupted, UMass Amherst Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Gargano threatened a range of punishments, from community service to expulsion, charging nine students involved with "harassment conduct less than a physical attack." Ultimately, despite FIRE's letter to the university pointing out the violation of free expression, the students were forced to resign from their positions of leadership on the SGA.