After Ball State University Student Government Association (SGA) president Malachi Randolph posted a series of derogatory tweets last week, the Ball State administration shared just the right message about the repercussions of such speech:
“His remarks are not a violation of any university policy or law,” said Tony Proudfoot, a university spokesperson. “He is likely to find, however, that such remarks do have unintended social consequences beyond formal actions from the university.”
The tweets in question included statements like “I hate when Chinese people make me write emails in Asian speak” and “Stereotypical Chinese<<<<”—not statements, to put it mildly, most of Randolph’s peers approved of. As Popehat’s Ken White remarks, “It is right and fit that [the tweets] have social consequences. But ... [t]hey were protected by the First Amendment.” To review: Derogatory language, even what might be considered by some as hate speech, is not among the few narrowly-defined categories of speech that are unprotected by the First Amendment.
The tweets certainly had social consequences, though. After much criticism from the Ball State community and in the media, Randolph apologized quickly and resigned from his SGA position.
Ball State’s handling of this situation stands in stark contrast to Florida State University’s recent rush to publicly state that it has “zero tolerance for ‘racist speech’” and was pursuing an investigation after one of its students allegedly posted racially charged comments on the social media platform Vine. In situations like this, universities should take their cues from Ball State. After all, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927), “the remedy to be applied” to speech with which one disagrees “is more speech, not enforced silence.”