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A graduate student from New Jersey was suspended for a full semester for posting an offensive comment making fun of a female classmate’s weight online.
Joseph Aziz, 26, was disciplined by Montclair State University as punishment for writing in the comments section on YouTube that a woman’s legs looked like ‘a pair of bleached hams.’
The offensive remark accompanied a video from an event at the school where the guest speaker, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, was heckled by some of the students.
The speech was organized by a group where Aziz was a member, and he felt compelled to defend the keynote speaker.
The YouTube video has since been removed from the site along with the comments, but according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is supporting Aziz, the footage featured a male student with whom the 26-year-old man disagreed politically.
The advocacy group came out strongly this week in Aziz’s defense, calling on Montclair State to revoke the month-long suspension.
‘As an agency of the government, Montclair State has no power to order students not to discuss any topic or person on independent social media sites like Facebook,’ Robert Shibley, FIRE’s senior vice president, told The Star-Ledger.
Speaking to the paper, Aziz, a molecular biology student, said that he was shocked that a careless comment about a stranger’s appearance made online may have put his educational career in jeopardy.
The 26-year-old Weehawken resident was hauled before a disciplinary committee after he joked about the ‘bleached hams’ comment on a Facebook group, which he believed to be private, in violation of a no-contact order issued by the college after it has become aware of the YouTube remarks.
n the aftermath of the hearing, Aziz was suspended for the spring semester, which began this month, and received a write-up about the incident in his official college transcript.
‘Freedom of speech and due process are basic rights that we have come to expect as Americans,’ Aziz said. ‘I hope my story draws attention to the fact that these rights can be violated by broad, overreaching university codes of conduct.’
For Aziz, it all started last August when he attended a speech on the Montclair campus delivered by former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, who is expected to run for governor of New Jersey on the Republican ticket.
The event was sponsored by Young Americans for Liberty, a student political group where Aziz was a member.
During the speech, a male student accompanied by his girlfriend jeered Lonegan. A video of the racially charged confrontation was posted on YouTube, and Aziz wrote a pair of comments calling the heckler and his female companion fat.
‘The initial comments were in poor taste and I regret making them,’ he admitted. ‘I was frustrated with what I perceived as an attack on the speaker whose appearance my group sponsored.’
The comments were soon brought to the attention of Montclair State. In October, Aziz was ordered to make no further comments about the woman online and to stay away from her.
After the order was issued, Aziz posted several comments making light of the August confrontation on a Facebook group called Oceanian Troll Order, which he thought was private, CBS New York reported.
In one post, the student reportedly joked about the escaping the woman’s ‘tyrannical ham lock.’
In November, the graduate student was charged with failing to comply with the university’s non-contact order and hit with a slew of violations, most of which were later dismissed, Montclair Patch.
After a hearing, Aziz was found guilty for breaching the con-contract order and suspended for a month and ordered to stay away from campus under threat of arrest.
On his part, Aziz has released a letter he received from university official Karen Pennington announcing his suspension.
‘Are you so focused on non-productive activities such as Facebook and “trolling” that you have misplaced your priorities? It also is hard to understand how someone your age could truly expect that what you put on the Internet is private,’ she said.
FIRE sent a letter to Montclair President Susan Cole January 4 slamming the gag order placed on Aziz as a violation of his freedom of speech and asking the university to reverse its suspension decision.
The university has refused to address the situation, citing student privacy rules. However, the college released the following statement:
‘The University acted in accordance with its Student Code of Conduct which complies with the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, and other applicable federal and state regulations.’
Aziz, who received his bachelor’s degree from Montclair State in 2011, now fears that the blight on his academic record would have an adverse effect on his budding career in microbiology.