Seven Hampton University students endured disciplinary hearings last Friday after they distributed anti-Bush literature to the student community in an attempt to raise awareness of issues such as the crisis in Iraq and genocide in the Sudan. Hampton had threatened the students with expulsion for “cajoling,” “proselytizing,” and distributing unauthorized materials.
After protests from FIRE and other groups, the five students were thankfully not expelled, but they have been assigned 20 hours of community service, and the other two will likely receive the same. As student Aaron Jay has said, “The community service is reasonable…but what we had to go through to get to this point was not reasonable.”
Throughout this ordeal, Hampton has publicly stated that it is committed to free speech. University officials have stated that “Hampton University has always and continues to be a champion of free speech and free expression. Hampton University believes in the free flow and sharing of ideas among our faculty, staff and students.”
But with Friday’s decision, Hampton has shown that it will not keep its promises but instead wield its institutional power to threaten and intimidate students, and that it will continue to hold students’ rights in thrall, all while paying lip service to free speech. Hampton has not offered to review the rigid policies that led to disciplinary sanctions against students who merely gathered to distribute literature on campus, and students still protest that progressive student groups like Amnesty International have a hard time gaining recognition on campus.
Until Hampton changes its policies regulating student activities, its claims of being a “champion of free speech” will continue to ring false.