In a press release today, FIRE exposes the preposterous injustice perpetrated by Colorado College when it found two students guilty of “violence” after they distributed a satirical flyer mocking a publication of the Feminist and Gender Studies program. For having violated the school’s conduct code regarding violence, student Chris Robinson and a second student have been required to hold a campus forum discussing issues brought up by their satirical publication.
This case is serious, but the subject matter is truly laughable. In early 2008, Colorado College’s “Feminist and Gender Studies Interns” distributed a flyer called “The Monthly Rag.” The flyer 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.
As a direct parody of “The Monthly Rag,” Robinson and the second student, who wishes to remain anonymous, distributed a flyer in February called “The Monthly Bag” under the pseudonym “The Coalition of Some Dudes.” The flyer 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. Check out the two flyers side by side. The parody could not be clearer.
Shortly thereafter, Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste sent out a campus-wide email about “The Monthly Bag,” stating that “The flyers include threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community… Anonymous acts meant to demean and intimidate others are not [welcome].” The e-mail asked the authors of “The Monthly Bag” to come forward. When they did less than an hour later, they were charged with violating the college’s values of respect and integrity.
FIRE wrote to Celeste on March 21, 2008, pointing out that any punishment would contradict Colorado College’s own policies, which include many advertised commitments to free expression. For instance, the school’s Diversity & Anti-Discrimination Policy states: “On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed.” Celeste, a former governor of Ohio, is abroad, and other administrators receiving the letter have not responded.
Two weeks after their hearing before the student conduct committee, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds finally wrote to the “Coalition of Some Dudes” students on March 25, stating that they had been found guilty of “violating the student code of conduct policy on violence.” Part of their punishment was to have the letter put in their student file, and what is more, they were required to hold a forum to “discuss issues and questions raised” by “The Monthly Bag.” Although Edmonds acknowledged that the intent of the publication was to satirize “The Monthly Rag,” he wrote that “in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence—or implied violence-of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus.” Apparently, according to Edmonds, “the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality” in an anonymous parody made students subjectively feel threatened by chainsaws or rifles.
Not only has Colorado College wrongly punished students for expression that any reasonable person would easily recognize as parody that threatens no one, but according to Edmonds’s standard, countless movies, songs, and other artistic endeavors that “juxtapose weaponry and sexuality” are inappropriate for the adult students of Colorado College. Not only is this idea ludicrous, but the case is one more example of offended persons using ‘threat of violence’ as a pretext to punish the speech they dislike. Colorado College ought to live up to its own promises of free expression and allow its students to engage in robust debate and satire—even when some members of the campus community may feel offended. And I have little doubt that the required “forum” was intended to be little more than a shaming session during which the offended parties could tell the two students how bad they and their flyer had been.
If you want to ask Edmonds what he was thinking, you could phone him at 719-389-6684 or write him at email@example.com.