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A Big Year for Campus Censorship

Yesterday, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and Senior Vice President Robert Shibley kicked off Minding the Campus’s series on “the year that was” in higher education by writing about some of the past academic year’s biggest trends in censorship.

These trends will be familiar to Torch readers. Greg and Robert cover “disinvitation season” and trigger warnings, to start. And discussions about sex in particular came under attack from several angles, as Greg and Robert explain:

[I]n December at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Professor Patti Adler’s long-running “Deviance in U.S. Society” class was canceled for the following semester by skittish administrators who claimed that a lecture on prostitution that involved voluntary student participation could be seen as “harassing.” …

And it’s not just talk about sex itself—talk about sexual issues has been a big issue at Stanford this spring, with the student government refusing to allocate $600 of requested student funding to the Stanford Anscombe Society for a conference on traditional values and marriage. Despite the fact that the student government constitution contains a provision mirroring the exact wording of the First Amendment, the Stanford student government decided that viewpoint discrimination in terms of funding requests was just fine.

Complaints about “cultural appropriation” also seem to have increased this year. Students at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, for example, blasted event organizers for planning to bring a camel to school for “Hump Day,” because it was “insensitive to Middle Eastern cultures.” (There was no known Middle Eastern theme to the event.) Perhaps more disturbing, though, is the idea that only people of certain skin colors can perform certain types of music:

Hampshire College in western Massachusetts made the even worse decision to cancel a campus performance by Shokazoba, an Afrobeat band, because its members are mostly not black. Students complained that the band, which features an African-American lead singer, was appropriating black culture by playing Afrobeat music. It’s difficult to think of a more depressing commentary on the narrowing of the cultural horizons of today’s students than the fact that some campuses have come to the point at which the performance of music is to be limited by the color of one’s skin.

Finally, Greg and Robert review some of the best and worst moments for campus speech codes this year. On the positive side, Virginia lawmakers effectively abolished “free speech zones” from the state’s public universities, establishing outdoor areas on campus as public forums. And FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project has had an auspicious start, with Modesto Junior College agreeing to eliminate its free speech zone after student Robert Van Tuinen took the college to court.

Read what else Greg and Robert had to say about the year’s big events in campus censorship at Minding the Campus.

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