By Ben Russell at NBC
A Texas Christian University student has been hit with serious academic penalties because of offensive comments he made online over the last academic year.
TCU informed Harry Vincent, 19, earlier this month that it has upheld his suspension, which restricts the rising sophomore’s activity on campus to attending class – and that’s about it.
“I do feel that I’ve been unfairly punished,” Vincent told NBCDFW by phone Wednesday from his home in Maryland.
TCU sent Vincent a letter in late April, informing the then-freshman that he had been accused of violating two Student Code of Conduct provisions, specifically “infliction of bodily or emotional harm” and “disorderly conduct.”
The complaints came to the university from a Tumblr user in Maryland who took offense to several tweets Vincent sent out via Twitter, including:
- “#Baltimore in 4 words: poor uneducated druggy hoodrats”
- “This is clearly not a religion of peace. Stop islam 2k15, enough is enough! @BarackObama needs to step up and take action”
- “Almost as tan as a terrorist. Going to be thoroughly disappointed if I’m not racially profiled on my trip to gulf shores.
“My posts were not intended to offend anyone,” Vincent said. “And I apologize to anyone if they did.”
Vincent was afforded a hearing before a TCU disciplinary body, which decided upon a stiff punishment: Suspension in abeyance through Aug. 15, 2016 and disciplinary probation through graduation from TCU.
As part of his suspension, Vincent can only set foot on the Fort Worth campus to attend class or to use an academic facility, like the library.
Vincent cannot live on campus, and he cannot participate in any co-curricular activity, like attend a football game, or use any non-academic facility, like the student recreation center.
“I never thought in a million years that a couple tweets that could be taken offensive by some people could end up having this big of a ramification, you know, on my life,” Vincent said.
TCU issued a statement Wednesday evening that reads:
“Texas Christian University’s mission is to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community. We are always disappointed when any member of our community fails to behave in a way that aligns with our mission. When students to not live up to these values and are alleged to have violated the Code of Student Conduct, they are subject to a University disciplinary process, which may result in suspension or expulsion.”
TCU’s actions are akin to “appeasing an angry Internet mob,” according to a free speech organization that is championing Vincent’s rights to free speech.
“If TCU no longer believes student rights are important, it should just come out and say so,” said Ari Cohn, an attorney and senior program officer for legal and public advocacy at FIRE – the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
“If the TCU administration is willing to punish its students every time they offend someone on the Internet, TCU students should be very afraid,” Cohn added in a statement to NBCDFW.
When asked if he was planning to return to campus in the fall, Vincent said he was still not sure.
“At this point, if this punishment is to stay in place, I would not feel comfortable returning. And I would not feel comfortable funding an institution where I don’t just have my basic rights,” Vincent said.
In addition, Vincent must complete a course called “Issues in Diversity” and complete 60 hours of community service.