All of us at FIRE would like to wish our friends and supporters happy holidays. As universities wind down for winter break, students head home to their families, and we prepare for a restful holiday weekend, some students have plenty to celebrate. After a months-long wrongful suspension, the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at Brown University is on the verge of becoming re-affiliated, awaiting only a Brown administrator’s signature to make the re-affiliation official. For others, like Johns Hopkins student Justin Park, whose “offensive” party invitation on Facebook.com gained him a one-year suspension, the holiday season is considerably less celebratory. Unless Hopkins takes favorable action on Park’s appeal, the eighteen-year-old junior’s suspension will begin in January.
The RUF had a difficult fall semester. After being notified of their suspension in September, the RUF waited for months for an explanation that never came. After FIRE intervened and brought Brown’s unfair treatment of the evangelical student group to public attention, Brown stated that it would work with the RUF to get the suspension lifted before next semester. I reported in the beginning of December that the RUF had initiated the re-affiliation process, which includes submitting a form and gaining a signature from someone in the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life. That form has been submitted, meaning that the long-awaited revocation of the suspension should be imminent. Until the RUF’s reinstatement is official, however, the ball still rests unsurely in Brown’s court. We will continue to follow the situation next semester to ensure that Brown ultimately restores the RUF to its rightful status as a recognized student organization.
The situation is far bleaker at Johns Hopkins University, where Justin Park finished out his fall semester unsure of what the next year will bring. After Hopkins sentenced Park to a one-year suspension for posting two invitations to his fraternity’s “Halloween in the Hood” party on Facebook.com—invitations that would be constitutionally protected outside the walls of Johns Hopkins—FIRE got involved by writing a letter to Hopkins President William Brody. Hopkins responded by defending its severe treatment of Park, and FIRE wrote back with another letter advocating for Park’s right to post comments that some found offensive. Park has also filed for an appeal of Hopkins’ decision, but the university has neither responded to FIRE’s latest letter nor issued a decision on the appeal. While other students are relaxing and enjoying their winter breaks, Park’s break is certain to be anything but relaxing as he awaits a decision that profoundly affects his future. As this situation unfolds, FIRE will continue to fight for Justin Park’s rights as well as for the rights of all students at Johns Hopkins. We hope that Hopkins does the right thing in this holiday season and decides to live up to its promises—to Justin Park and all its students—of free expression on its campus.