Public University Bans ‘Treating Individuals Differently,’ Quickly Backtracks

November 23, 2015

By Peter Hasson at The Daily Caller

Until just a few days ago, students at Washington State University were prohibited from “treating individuals differently” or engaging in “uninvited correspondence and communication,” as part of the university’s policy on harassment and discrimination.

The university’s policy listed 23 different examples of harassment or discrimination, including “following a practice that disproportionately impacts one group,” “name calling [and] jokes,” and “persistent attempts to enter into an amorous relationship.”

After an inquiry from The Daily Caller regarding the policies, WSU removed any references to “treating individuals differently” and “uninvited correspondence and communication” before returning multiple requests for comment. The original policy can still be found in cached form.

Kimberly Anderson, the Director of WSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity, claimed that the policy description as it appeared online “did not sufficiently convey” the university’s “policy standard.”

Anderson did say that “treating individuals differently” or “uninvited correspondence and communication” could still constitute harassment if doing so created a “hostile environment.”

The updated university policy, however, still allows for an “offensive environment” to qualify as harassment.

What’s more, the WSU still claims that “unwanted, offensive, and/or uninvited comments about another’s physical appearance” are all examples of “discrimination.”

WSU does not specify how students are supposed to know whether or not a comment is unwanted before opening their mouth, although Anderson did reassure TheDC that the university affords “careful consideration to speech protections” when “reviewing allegations of discrimination.”

In addition to being forbidden from unwanted comments about their peers’ physical appearance, WSU students are also prohibited from making “comments of a sexual nature” or “sexually explicit statements, questions, jokes, or anecdotes.”

Ari Cohn, a lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told TheDC that “comments or jokes of a sexual nature, while often offensive, are generally protected by the First Amendment.” Cohn went on to say that the university’s policy would very likely intimidate students into silence.

“No student wants to risk the possibility of a sexual harassment investigation,” Cohn said. “Students are far more likely to self-censor and avoid any potential for trouble.”

FIRE gives Washington State University a “Red” speech code rating — the worst rating a school can receive.

WSU, which claims “Freedom of Expression” as one if its core values, justifies the policy by arguing that discrimination “destroys mutual respect and a trusting environment, can bring substantial personal harm to individuals, and violates individual rights.”

WSU previously faced controversy after multiple professors banned students from using words such as “illegal alien,” “male,” or “female” in class or in their assignments. One WSU professor even required white students to defer “to the experiences of people of color.” Students who disobeyed the professors faced penalties ranging from a poor grade to failing the course.

In the face of public outrage, however, the university forced its professors to change the policies.

Schools: Washington State University