Campus Free Speech

Pomona College Investigates Students for Posting Offensive Memes on Facebook

"You PC, bro?"

|

PC
Screenshot via South Park

Students at Pomona College came under investigation last month for posting offensive memes in a closed Facebook group. Today good sense prevailed and the college decided not to punish the kids for their speech.

The group is called "U PC BREAUX"—a funny way of spelling "You PC, bro?," which is a South Park joke about the fratty enthusiasm and militance of some campus social justice types. Launching an investigation over some un-P.C. meme-sharing is exactly the kind of overreaction that South Park was mocking.

Many people, to be sure, would be offended by the group's content. As student Ross Steinberg told Inside Higher Ed:

Memes were posted about rape, genocide and, in one example, calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants because they were being too loud, Steinberg told Inside Higher Ed. He said he had been randomly invited to the group, which contained about 300 members. Pomona enrolls about 1,650 students.

"Personally, I felt this is a big group on campus," Steinberg said. "This was a group in which people post hateful things…it really kind of normalizes that kind of thought."

Steinberg and others are free to expose participants to ridicule and condemnation. But Pomona's investigation hinges on whether irresponsible meme-ing constitutes a "bias incident," and that raises free speech considerations. Though Pomona is a private institution, it explicitly guarantees students that it will respect their free expression rights. The college's harassment code even binds administrators to the First Amendment:

Consistent with California Education Code Section 94367, the definition of harassment contained in this policy and its application to student speech shall be subject to the limitations of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 2 of the California Constitution.

As an educational institution, Pomona College is committed to the principle of free expression and the exploration of ideas in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect. Thus, in keeping with the principles of academic freedom, there can be no forbidden ideas.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent a letter to Pomona urging them to abandon the probe. "Pomona students cannot be subject to investigation or punishment for reading, posting to, or being a member of a private Facebook group that permits, or even encourages, its members to share images and text offensive to other people," wrote FIRE's Adam Steinbaugh. "The threat of punitive measures implied from an investigation by administrators may please some members of the community, but it is fundamentally at odds with Pomona's policies and obligations."

This morning, Vice President for Student Affairs Miriam Feldblum sent an email to students announcing that the investigation was completed. The college determined that "the memes were bias-related and protected speech" and that there was no "basis to initiate an investigation into the Facebook group or individual students for possible violations of the Student Code or our Discrimination and Harassment Policy."

Feldblum's email clarifies that speech has to meet several criteria before it crosses the line between protected expression and impermissible harassment:

An act which is speech alone shall not be considered to violate this paragraph unless it is a threat of violence; or

(1) the speech, considered objectively, is abusive and insulting rather than a communication of ideas,

(2) the speech is directed at an individual and actually used in an abusive manner in a situation that presents an actual danger that it will cause an immediate breach of the peace by inciting a violent reaction by the individual to whom the speech is addressed and,

(3) the student intends the speech to be abusive and insulting rather than a communication of ideas.

As long as speech has to meet all three of those definitions to be considered harassment—objectively abusive, deliberately abusive, and inciting imminent violence—this is a suitable approach.

"This seems to be exactly what we wanted Pomona to do," Steinbaugh tells Reason. "It would be preferable that colleges not embark on investigations in the first place, but it's good to see a quick resolution."

Advertisement

NEXT: No, the U.S. Didn't Just Take a Stand for Executing Gay People

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. One way to make college administrators suffer is to sue them into being fired.

    1. The tried and true solution is to pick up their wives in the produce section, invite them to the frat party, and bang them til they say Dean.

      1. Yes, and one way to help keep some of our youth’s prurient instincts in check on our college campuses is to have a nice little investigation from time to time. In this regard, they should also investigate any incidents of inappropriately deadpan “satire.” Surely no one here would dare to defend the “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated judge in America’s leading criminal “parody” case? See the documentation at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  2. If colleges would hold the line on the 1st Amendment everytime, all of the time, they would have less problems with snowflakes. Problem is that they give in to their demands which just encourages them. Once they allow it to get out of control then they’re no longer in charge, the snowflakes are.

    1. Compromising with bullies is not smart.

      1. incoming bullets have the right of way…

    2. It doesn’t help that most college administrators agree with the snowflakes.

    3. “As long as speech has to meet all three of those definitions to be considered harassment?objectively abusive, deliberately abusive, and inciting imminent violence?this is a suitable approach.”

      I’m not sure even this relatively reasonable standard fulfills the First Amendment. Enough heckler’s vetoes of a given type of speech, and it will become “understood” to be deliberately and objectively abusive, and all that remains is for the most-easily-offended target of the speech to react violently a few times.

      An example: for some time now, referring to a black person using the “N-word” now essentially gives him a “Get out of jail free card” for any violent reaction he may take. This has descended down the slippery slope to a point that any speech objected to by perpetually-offended liberal snowflakes is considered by them to be tantamount to violence, and therefore excuses any ACTUAL violence they conduct in response.

  3. I hope this nonsense hasn’t blown over by the time I retire because I think using my GI bill to go back to college just to fuck with these people sounds so much fun. I can’t imagine how much fun it would be to be drug in front of the thought police board for posting an “offensive meme”. You could seriously drive some of these losers into a full mental breakdown.

    1. I like that idea

    2. Pierce Hawthorne, is that you?

      1. At first, I felt bad for not getting that reference. Then, I googled it and realized it was from a TV show.

  4. When you think about it, if words can be violence then memes are pretty much lynchings.

    1. I thought that’s what the Enlightenment was mostly about: words do not equal action. Guess it was all just a bunch of privileged patriarchy.

      String em’ up.

      1. Free speech is white privilege!

    2. Should we call you Pillow Fist, then?

  5. Well this particular SJW outrage did not go as planned; I predict Anifa will be on it right away. Yell, scream, break some windows, and burn a car. That should get those administrators on the right track.

    1. Yes, that would show, by the weird administrator-logic we’ve seen all over the country, that the memes in the *CLOSED FACEBOOK GROUP” caused violence and endangered students. Then action is taken, not against the perpetrators of the violence, but against whomever they are pissed off at.

      Remember that time Ann Coulter broke all those windows and started fires? Yeah, like that.

  6. Listen: if college kids can’t figure out how to have fun in college, I really don’t care. It’s their youth to waste.

    I hope they enjoy midlife crisis.

    1. I would watch a movie about Brian and John prowling for snatch on a Friday night during their college years.

      1. Isn’t that just Old School, but with a lot of uggos?

        1. Zing.

  7. Many people, to be sure, would be offended by the group’s content.

    Good to have you back, Robby.

    1. The Coif knows what the plebs want.

    2. X-
      As soon as I reached that phrase, I knew who wrote it without looking at the byline. I assume he has “tbs” as a keyboard shortcut or something.

      1. He’s got a Word macro for it, which he doesn’t need, because at this point he can type the whole phrase in under a tenth of a second, commas and all.

    3. I admit to not having poured over every one of Robby’s ‘to-be-sures’ but this seems like an uncharacteristically ‘good shoot’? Like people actually would be offended by it. As opposed to the more trademark Soave ‘spray and pray’ tbs where he backhands liberty, defends oppression, and strives not to offend whiny people.

    4. They are pretty obviously offensive (mocking suicide and child rape victims, for example), and not particularly funny for the most part. I wouldn’t be happy with my kid at all if they posted to that group.

  8. “…Launching an investigation over some un-P.C. meme-sharing is exactly the kind of overreaction that South Park was mocking…”

    Sarcasm is no longer possible.

  9. The 60s have been totally romanticized. But you can understand why they were. Sure, the good times were not what they are made out to be and anyone who has ever watched Gimme Shelter knows even the good parts had a serious dark side. But hedonism and sex are always easy to romanticize after the fact.

    That makes me wonder how well the current generation of SJWs are going to age as time goes on. They seem to be utterly miserable people who are incapable of having a good time. How exactly do you look back fondly on your days in college and that time the Facebook meme triggered you?

    1. “” How exactly do you look back fondly on your days in college and that time the Facebook meme triggered you?”‘

      I’m guessing with a glass of wine, by the fire, in fetal position, crying uncontrollably. The facebook meme was the second worse, next to the time Hillary Clinton was robbed by the Russians to install the great satan Trump as president.

    2. Some people look back on their college years and think about (GASP) the education they received.

      1. Sure. But most people look back on their youth as a good time and generally romanticize it. So even if you don’t romanticize college, it is a good bet your romanticize some part of your youth and that is my point.

        Beyond that, I look back on my college days as a fun time of my youth. That is not because (gasp) I didn’t receive an education. It is because (double gasp) I view education as a lifetime project and college just one small part of that and in no way inclusive of “my education” whatever that is.

      2. “When I think back
        On all the crap I learned in high school
        It’s a wonder
        I can think at all”

        Paul Simon

    3. The 60s have been totally romanticized. But you can understand why they were. Sure, the good times were not what they are made out to be and anyone who has ever watched Gimme Shelter knows even the good parts had a serious dark side. But hedonism and sex are always easy to romanticize after the fact.

      That makes me wonder how well the current generation of SJWs are going to age as time goes on. They seem to be utterly miserable people who are incapable of having a good time. How exactly do you look back fondly on your days in college and that time the Facebook meme triggered you?

      Terrifying thought.

      Those 60’s hippies are the ones promulgating these asinine policies. God knows what these fucking Benito Mussolini Jr types will do.

      1. This is true. And God only knows.

  10. Every time I hear the word “normalize” I want to drink myself stupid.

    1. Normalizing alcoholism. NOT OKAY.

  11. “Though Pomona is a private institution, it explicitly guarantees students that it will respect their free expression rights.”

    Can something still be considered to be ‘private’ when all of the payments from its customers is subsidized by the federal government? And those payments are attached with mandated regulations? By this definition, Elon Musk is the greatest ‘private’ entrepreneur in the history of the world

    1. I don’t get it either. The only difference I can come up with is a different balance of tax dollars going to the student versus the institution.

    2. I generally bristle at the notion accepting any federal aid, however indirectly, requires one to adhere to government mandates. In this case, any serious action would have constituted a breach of contract, as defined by various codes of conduct.

  12. So I assume the good people at Pomona College are just going to change the wording of the Student Code and the Discrimination and Harassment Policy so that this heinous loophole gets closed forever.

  13. The investigation in question was based on allegations of specific harassment and threats. While there were a small number of students agitating for harsh repercussions regardless, the administration paid them no heed. Pomona really shouldn’t be lumped in with the Oberlins of the world.

    1. Oberlin’s of the world unite, you have nothing to fear but every fucking thing in the universe…

  14. Steinberg seems like a hella cool guy. Really.

  15. Pomona College Investigates Students for Posting Offensive Memes on Facebook – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by imo for pc Please visit imo app imo app snaptube for pc snaptube app

  16. IRT is still examining U PC BREAUX and getting make ideas for further activities to Feldblum, such as a potential research, which could take two types ? a study of breaches of the college student rule or of pestering and discrimination according to Essay Help consultant. The student rule also prohibits learners from using university processing and network services to “display or transfer violent pictures ? or information to an recognizable individual or group of individuals

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.