COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., March 31, 2008—Two students at Colorado College were found guilty of violating the school's conduct code regarding "violence" after they distributed a satirical flyer mocking a publication of the Feminist and Gender Studies program. As part of their punishment, student Chris Robinson and a second student have been required to hold a campus forum discussing issues brought up by their satirical publication. The students have turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"One flyer that mentions ‘male castration' is not violence, but a flyer that makes fun of it by mentioning ‘chainsaws' is prohibited? Both should be protected, but the double standard and lack of respect for freedom of speech in this case is simply staggering," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "Colorado College is brazenly violating its own promise of freedom of expression, as well as both fairness and common sense. Colorado College should reject both double standards and censorship."
In early 2008, Colorado College's "Feminist and Gender Studies Interns" distributed a flyer called "The Monthly Rag." The flyer included a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn" by a "world-famous prostitute and porn star," an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto.
As a parody of "The Monthly Rag," Robinson and a second student, who wishes to remain nameless, distributed a flyer in February called "The Monthly Bag" under the pseudonym "The Coalition of Some Dudes." The flyer included references to "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, a quotation regarding a sexual position from the website menshealth.com, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse" of men from the website batteredmen.com.
Shortly thereafter, Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste sent out a campus-wide email about "The Monthly Bag," stating that "The flyers include threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community... Anonymous acts meant to demean and intimidate others are not [welcome]." The e-mail asked the authors of "The Monthly Bag" to come forward. When they did less than an hour later, they were charged with violating the college's values of respect and integrity.
FIRE wrote to Celeste on March 21, 2008, pointing out that any punishment would contradict Colorado College's own policies and advertised commitments to free expression. The school's Diversity & Anti-Discrimination Policy states that "On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed." Celeste, a former governor of Ohio, is abroad, and other administrators receiving the letter have not responded.
Two weeks after their hearing before the student conduct committee, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds finally wrote to the "Coalition of Some Dudes" students on March 25, stating that they had been found guilty of "violating the student code of conduct policy on violence" and that as a punishment, they would be required to hold a forum to "discuss issues and questions raised" by "The Monthly Bag." Although Edmonds acknowledged that the intent of the publication was to satirize "The Monthly Rag," he wrote that "in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence—or implied violence—of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus." Apparently, according to Edmonds, "the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" in an anonymous parody made students subjectively feel threatened by chainsaws or rifles.
"Not only has Colorado College wrongly punished students for expression that any reasonable person would easily recognize as parody that threatens no one, but according to Edmonds's standard, countless movies, songs, and other artistic endeavors that ‘juxtapose weaponry and sexuality' are inappropriate for the adult students of Colorado College," Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, said. "Colorado College must live up to its own promises of free expression and allow its students to engage in robust debate and satire—even when some members of the campus community may feel offended."
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty at Colorado College and at campuses nationwide can be viewed at thefire.org.
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard F. Celeste, President, Colorado College: 719-389-6700; email@example.com
Mike Edmonds, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students, Colorado College: 719-389-6684; firstname.lastname@example.org