Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, Illinois
Type: Private
Federal Circuit: 7th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

Northwestern University has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Read more here.

This school does not have any cases at this time.
Yellow Light Policies
  • Student Handbook: Statement of Community Principles and Values 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility

    Civility and respect are expected behaviors.

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  • Student Handbook: Residence Hall Rules and Regulations 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies

    Signs or posters in windows or on doors must have the approval of all roommates and are subject to the approval of the University.

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  • Campus Publicity Policies and Procedures: General Policies 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies, Statement

    All posters, flyers, leaflets, and other notices must clearly state the name(s) of the sponsoring student(s) and/or organization(s).

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  • Prohibited Use of Electronic Resources for Threats, Harassment, and Pornography 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies

    Use of the University’s Electronic Resources by any System User to send threatening or harassing content or messages or to view, download, retransmit, distribute or otherwise communicate content or messages that may violate the University’s Policy on Discrimination and Harassment and/or Policy on Sexual Harassment, is prohibited.

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  • Student Handbook: Hate Crimes and Bias Incidents 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech

    A bias incident is an act of con­duct, speech, or expression to which a bias motive is evident as a contributing factor (regardless of whether the act is criminal).

    Sanctions may be imposed for students found to have committed hate crimes and for bias incidents that involve conduct that violates laws or University policies, specifically including the University’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy.

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  • Student Handbook: Civility, Mutual Respect, and Unacceptability of Violence on Campus 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility

    Unacceptable behavior. Demeaning, intimidating, threatening, or violent behaviors that affect the ability to learn, work, or live in the University environment depart from the standard for civility and respect. These behaviors have no place in the academic community.

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  • Student Handbook: Discrimination and Harassment 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Harassment — whether verbal, physical, or visual — that is based on any of these characteristics is a form of discrimination. This includes harassing conduct affecting tangible job benefits, interfering unreasonably with an individual’s academic or work performance, or creating what a reasonable person would sense is an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

    Examples of discrimination and harassment may include …
    • Jokes or epithets about a person’s protected status
    • Teasing or practical jokes directed at a person based on his or her protected status
    • Displaying or circulating written materi­als or pictures that degrade a person or group
    • Verbal abuse or insults about, directed at, or made in the presence of an individual or group of individuals in a protected group

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  • Student Handbook: Sexual Harassment 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which includes, but is not limited to, unwelcome sexual advances; the use or threatened use of sexual favors as a basis for academic or employment decisions; conduct that creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive academic or working environment; conduct that has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance; and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity.

    Examples of sexual harassment may include

    • pressure for a dating, romantic, or inti­mate relationship

    • touching, kissing, hugging, or massaging

    • pressure for or forced sexual activity

    • unnecessary references to various parts of the body

    • remarks about a person’s gender or sexual orientation

    • sexual innuendoes or humor

    • obscene gestures

    • sexual graffiti, pictures, or posters

    • sexually explicit profanity

    • stalking or cyberbullying

    • email and Internet use that violates this policy

    • sexual assault

    » Read More

  • Student Handbook: Prohibited Conduct 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Physical abuse of any person or any action that threatens or endangers the emotional well-being, health, or safety of any person (including oneself).

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  • Campus Publicity Policies and Procedures: Advertising- Leaflets & Handbills 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies

    The distribution of leaflets and hand bills at any campus location must be approved by Norris Event Management.

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Green Light Policies
  • Division of Student Affairs: Campus Inclusion and Community- Academic Freedom/Freedom of Speech 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    Northwestern University is committed to the ideals of academic freedom and freedom of speech — to providing a learning environment that encourages a robust, stimulating, and thought-provoking exchange of ideas.

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  • Student Handbook: Disruption 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    Northwestern University stands for freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, freedom of dissent, and freedom to demonstrate in peaceful fashion.

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  • Student Handbook: Student Rights 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    The rights of individual students include …

    3. Freedom to communicate, assemble, and peaceably demonstrate;

    4. Freedom to join organizations, to speak freely, and to exercise the civil rights to which any citizen of the United States is entitled, as long as the student does not claim to represent the institution.

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  • Coaches blow whistle on athlete indiscretions on networking sites

    July 16, 2006

    Before DeMarcus Dobbs plays a game at Georgia, we know this much: He has 271 friends. He was at Whitney’s for a party over Memorial Day weekend. (But he doesn’t drink or smoke.) He broke Jake the Snake’s nose. (But it was Justin’s fault.) He has a girl named Anna who will always love him despite the paint handprint he put on her shirt. And he’d better bring his money next time he sees Bobby “cuz it’s on.” Welcome to the online social networking/self-profiling world of, and dozens of similar Internet sites.   That emerging world has started […]

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  • Colleges learning a tough lesson

    June 1, 2006

    Luke Daquino, a former University at Albany lacrosse player, said he never understood why today’s students bare their souls on the Internet. The growing popularity of Web sites such as, and allow the college crowd to share personal information and photographs all over the country. “None of that stuff for me,” said Daquino, who graduated last year. “You put way too much stuff on there, you get yourself in trouble. Especially in college, people put pictures of everything that goes on, and they go everywhere.” Some colleges are finding that out the hard way. Photos of alleged […]

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  • Objectivists cited with misconduct

    November 20, 2003

    By Sarah Halasaz and Alison Knezevich at The Daily Northwestern Associated Student Government senators voted to adjourn halfway through the group’s agenda at its weekly meeting Wednesday night after spending nearly three hours discussing misconduct recommendations. The Senate ultimately voted to uphold financial- and group-misconduct recommendations against the Objectivist Club for involvement in an anti-affirmative action bake sale Oct. 31. As a result the ASG-recognized group must schedule all programming and meeting places Winter Quarter through ASG’s Executive Committee. In addition, the group cannot use its Student Organization Finance Office account to fund events. The Executive Committee report charged the […]

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  • Thought Reform 101

    March 1, 2000

    At Wake Forest University last fall, one of the few events designated as “mandatory” for freshman orientation was attendance at Blue Eyed, a filmed racism awareness workshop in which whites are abused, ridiculed, made to fail, and taught helpless passivity so that they can identify with “a person of color for a day.” In Swarthmore College’s dormitories, in the fall of 1998, first-year students were asked to line up by skin color, from lightest to darkest, and to step forward and talk about how they felt concerning their place in that line. Indeed, at almost all of our campuses, some […]

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  • FIRE’s Shibley on the ‘Offendedness Sweepstakes’ This Halloween Season

    October 30, 2014

    It’s almost Halloween, and that means that college students across the country are waging war against costumes that they deem culturally insensitive or otherwise offensive. In an article for The Daily Caller today, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley takes a look at some of the party themes that have been landing college and university students in trouble lately. Robert leads with a jaw-dropping example: Northwestern University students are under fire for holding a “Jail N’ Bail”-themed literacy fundraiser with no apparent racial content because it “belittled” the problems faced by racial minorities and the poor. It’s one thing for […]

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  • Halloween Costume E-Mail Surfaces Deeper Concerns about Freedom of Speech at Northwestern University

    November 3, 2010

    Last week, Northwestern University Dean of Students Burgwell J. Howard and other university actors sent an e-mail to the Northwestern community encouraging students to display sensitivity in their Halloween costume choices. This e-mail was a reaction to the outrage sparked by two white students dressing up in “blackface” last year. Howard provided students with guidelines to determine if their costume is “insensitive.” Wearing a funny costume? Is the humor based on “making fun” of real people, human traits or cultures? Wearing a historical costume? If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural […]

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  • The State of Free Speech on Campus: Northwestern University

    April 13, 2009

    Throughout the spring semester, FIRE is drawing special attention to the state of free speech at America’s top 25 national universities (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report). Today we review policies at Northwestern University, which FIRE has given a red-light rating for maintaining policies that clearly and substantially restrict free expression on campus. As with all private universities—which are not bound by the First Amendment, but are bound by the promises they make to students and faculty—we begin by examining the commitments Northwestern has made to free speech. Northwestern’s student handbook provides that students have the right “to […]

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