Title IX weaponized against student journalists, again. This time, at Princeton. | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

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Title IX weaponized against student journalists, again. This time, at Princeton.

Princeton University orange flag flying on campus

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No-contact order issued against Princeton Tory reporter just another example of universities misusing Title IX to silence the press.

Princeton student journalist Danielle Shapiro took to the Wall Street Journal earlier this week to discuss a troubling development for campus press freedom at the Ivy League school, which inexplicably subjected her to a no-contact order last spring, prohibiting her from contacting or “editorializ[ing]” commentary from a former source — a campus leader with the group Princeton Committee on Palestine. Worse, Shapiro said Princeton issued the punishment — effectively banning her from ever reporting on the group again — without any investigation into whether such a prior restraint was warranted.

Princeton pointed to its Title IX policies as justification for the order, making this incident the latest in a concerning pattern of colleges and universities abusing Title IX against student journalists.

By issuing a no contact order against a student journalist, allegedly without so much as minimal investigation, Princeton has concocted a novel way to use Title IX to silence the press.

According to Shapiro’s Wall Street Journal piece, her only contact with the student who filed the complaint had been a cordial interview for The Princeton Tory, a conservative student publication. Shapiro’s story, covering a Committee on Palestine protest for which the source had served as an organizer, appeared just two days before the order was issued. Shapiro reports that while the source “disagreed on some points concerning context . . . [the source] never indicated that she felt threatened.” 

Yet, within days, and apparently without Princeton having assessed whether Shapiro actually violated any university policies, she was banned from speaking to this source in the future. This timing raises concerns that the source’s request for no contact was not a bona fide Title IX issue, but a response to the content of the story.

To be sure, if it were determined Shapiro had harassed the source, a no-contact order could be an appropriate response. But properly defined, harassment in the higher education context involves far more than a news article by a student journalist about a campus leader. Instead, it requires a course of conduct so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive as to deprive the victim of educational opportunities. A single interview and follow-up email from a journalist in the context of covering a public protest — the communication Shapiro recounts having with the complainant — does not by itself qualify as harassment. If Princeton had taken the time to conduct an initial inquiry into the source’s complaint, it likely would have realized no harassment occurred.

By issuing a no contact order against a student journalist, allegedly without so much as minimal investigation, Princeton has concocted a novel way to use Title IX to silence the press. But this isn’t the first time (nor will it be the last) that colleges and universities have abused the law to quiet journalists.

FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative will be watching the situation at Princeton and will continue to defend student journalists when they are subject to unfair restrictions under the guise of preventing harassment and assault.

As FIRE previously reported, an unfortunate number of institutions include (or fail to exclude) student journalists on their lists of mandatory Title IX reporters. Functionally, this means reporters at these institutions cannot report on sexual assault and harassment allegations confidentially, because they must inform the university when they learn of these allegations. These policies also silence sexual assault survivors by stripping them of the ability to pseudonymously tell their stories, as well as the ability to tell their stories publicly without invoking institutional processes.

While colleges and universities ethically should — and legally must — do their part to prevent sexual harassment and abuse on campus, nothing in the language of Title IX or its attendant guidelines requires institutions to silence journalists, either through no-contact orders or overbroad mandatory reporting policies.

FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative will be watching the situation at Princeton and will continue to defend student journalists when they are subject to unfair restrictions under the guise of preventing harassment and assault.


FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative’s 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).

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