Civil Liberties

Colorado College Suspends Student for 2 Years. His Crime? Telling a Stupid Joke.

Guilty of 'abusive behavior,' 'disruption of college activities'



Administrators at Colorado College—a private school languishing under a veritable tyranny of political correctness—have banned a student from campus for two full years because he made a stupid comment about black women.

The joke, to be sure, was tasteless. Someone posted "#blackwomenmatter" on the anonymous commenting app, Yik Yak. In response, student Thaddeus Pryor posted, "they matter, they're just not hot." It was a troll-ish, mean-spirted thing to say, but not exactly a hate crime.

Pryor was eventually identified as the author of the offensive joke (it's not clear how), and brought before Senior Associate Dean of Students Rochelle T. Mason. Pryor admitted responsibility, but maintained that he was joking. The next day, he received a letter informing him that he had been found guilty of "abusive behavior" and "disruption of college activities," according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

His punishment? Suspension from the college—for two full years. Pryor is not allowed to set foot on campus until August 28, 2017.

As a private institution, Colorado College is entitled to such an absurd overreaction. But the college also makes a promise of unfettered free speech to its students, and banning Pryor for his joke clearly violates that promise, according to FIRE:

Although Colorado College is private, and not legally bound by the First Amendment, it has repeatedly stated its commitment to freedom of expression. Yet Colorado College receives FIRE's poorest, "red light" rating for its speech codes. In fact, Colorado College's Abusive Behavior policy—one of the policies Pryor was found guilty of violating—was named FIRE's Speech Code of the Month in November 2011 for banning any act "which produces ridicule, embarrassment, harassment, intimidation or other such result."

"In an academic climate that has become increasingly censored, the expression of a preference, in my case even a joking preference, is being squashed with impunity," said Pryor. "A two year suspension during which I am prohibited from studying elsewhere is unwarranted and unreasonable. I made a six word comment that I freely admitted to authoring, thinking honesty was the first step to helping the community get past the incident. I support constructive discipline, but I believe the school's reaction neither educates me on my act of insensitivity, nor benefits the community, nor consoles offended students, to whom I am extremely sorry."

The college's censorious actions send a clear message to students and faculty that they can be punished for failing to self-filter—a terrible blow to free expression at a campus that already possesses knee-jerk anti-speech sentiments (see my reporting on Colorado College students trying to get a pro-gay film banned for not having enough transgender characters).

I reached out to Rochelle Mason with my concerns, and will update this post if she responds.