Two former students of Valencia College, a public institution in Orlando, Florida, have accused college officials of violating their First Amendment rights after they were allegedly punished for complaining about Valencia’s practice of having female students repeatedly undergo transvaginal ultrasounds at the hands of their classmates. The unnamed students filed a complaint in federal court last week, claiming that faculty members threatened their academic standing and future careers in retaliation for their speech.
As described in the complaint, female medical diagnostic sonography students were asked to disrobe, wrap themselves in towels, then walk through a classroom to a sonography station. There, a fellow student would use a condom-wrapped and lubricated vaginal probe to practice administering a transvaginal ultrasound. The plaintiffs allege they were made to participate in these procedures almost weekly.
Students were apparently told during orientation that this practice was voluntary. However, when the plaintiffs voiced concerns about the procedure, they were allegedly told by program chair Barbara Ball that “they could find another school if they did not wish to be probed.”
When the plaintiffs threatened to refuse the procedure, Ball and clinical and laboratory director Linda Shaheen allegedly threatened to reduce the students’ grades, while a college lab technician threatened to place them on a “blacklist” that would prevent them from being hired at Central Florida hospitals.
As the complaint argues, “This particular State conduct would make any ordinary member of society stand up and proclaim, ‘That’s outrageous!’” If the allegations are true, Valencia sought to trample the rights of the students not just to refuse to undergo the repeated procedures, but even to complain about being made to do so. Students must be free to question faculty and administrators about dubious institutional practices without fearing that their protected expression will end their college careers.
Lindsie Trego is a FIRE legal intern.