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CUNY Investigated a Student for 'Triggering' Comment About Israel

"It was explained to them why this is hate speech and that it is offensive and triggering."

CUNYBeyond My Ken / Wikimedia CommonsThe City University of New York (CUNY) conducted a three-month investigation into a student accused of writing a "triggering" comment on the Earth and Environmental Sciences listserv.

The student, Rafael Mutis, had complained that the department was advertising grants to study in Israel. This, in Garcia's view, was "some sick zionist propaganda." The discussion thread quickly degenerated into a nasty argument about Israel and Palestine, as tends to happen.

But things didn't end there. Garcia soon learned that another student had sent an email to the university's Title IX office to lodge a formal complaint. "Rafael and others have equated Fullbright [sic] Israel as being 'Sick Zionist Propaganda,'" the message read. "It was explained to them why this is hate speech and that it is offensive and triggering both nicely (by others) and not nicely (by me) and they won't stop."

At the end of the email, according to New York magazine's Jesse Singal,

the student explained why, in her view, what happened on the listserv was an act of discrimination: "I can't find an IT policy that provides guidance for what is appropriate for a list serv. I understand free speech. They were asked to stop using triggering language and continued to do so. But making me feel intimidated and harassed because of my ethnicity/religion intimidating [sic] doesn't give Jewish students an equal opportunity to receive GC information as the only way to avoid the hate speech is unsubscribe from the list serve that provides critical information in the pursuit of my degree."

Title IX deals with gender discrimination, not ethnic or religious discrimination, but the complaint landed in the lap of a bureaucrat with an interest in pursuing the matter anyway.

Singal reports that Mutis was forced to meet with an administrator, even though his remark about Zionism was absolutely protected under the First Amendment—CUNY is a public school—regardless of whether it was offensive, hateful, or triggering. Mutis wisely brought along a lawyer, who noted that Mutis had broken no policy. Indeed, CUNY had not even bothered to name a policy that Mutis might have broken, since there is none.

Three months later, Mutis learned that the investigation had come to an end. According to Singal:

The rose-colored view here is that this system "worked," in a certain sense. But on the other hand, anyone with even the faintest understanding of the First Amendment could have taken a swift look at the listserv exchange and said, "No, CUNY can't investigate him for that." CUNY is a public university, and public universities must abide by the First Amendment when it comes to these sorts of disciplinary systems....

It's astounding, and worrying, to think about the time and money a public university spent on what should have been a two-sentence response to the complainant: "I'm sorry to hear you were hurt by the tenor the conversation on the listserv. Unfortunately, CUNY is bound by law to respect the First Amendment, and with a few extremely narrowly defined exceptions, that includes statements others find offensive or hurtful."

This incident provides good evidence that the Obama-era Education Department's overly broad Title IX guidance has indeed made it too easy for students to bring frivolous complaints against each other. In this case the complaint wasn't even gender-based, but that didn't matter. This is one reason Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's proposed Title IX reforms are clearly needed.

Photo Credit: Beyond My Ken / Wikimedia Commons

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  • Crusty Juggler||

    The City University of New York (CUNY) conducted a three-month investigation into a student accused of writing a "triggering" comment on the Earth and Environmental Sciences listserv.

    "An investigation that lasted approximately 84 days longer than the Botham Jean murder investigation."

  • Quixote||

    Three months is a very short time for such an important investigation. The trolls need to understand that we have had enough with their offensive "speech." We will no longer allow any form of triggering, digital or otherwise, on our college campuses. Matters would have been worse if he had triggered a professor, a dean, or a department chairman. Especially if he had used "parody." See the documentation of America's leading criminal "satire" case at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "Triggering" is whatever the person triggered wants it to mean: STFU

  • Just Say'n||

    On the plus side, at least the kid was smart enough to know who to be bigoted toward. Imagine if he said a program to study in Iran or Saudi Arabia was "Sick Islamic propaganda". There wouldn't be an article in New York magazine and there would be so many "to be sures"....

  • ||

    It's an understandable mistake - it's gotten very complicated to figure out when it's okay to bash Jews and when it's not. "Calling out Zionist propaganda" can get you a pat on the back, or condemnation as an Anti-Semite, depending on which way the breeze is blowing.

    Now if he had played it safe and said something like "this program to go study in Sweden is blatant White Supremacist propaganda," he would have been given a prize.

  • ||

    Sweden's too progressive, what with democratic socialism, too cosmopolitan. Better to go with some poor former Eastern Bloc country.

  • ||

    True - Serbia would have been a better choice.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Mediterranean and Alpine nations were in the middle group when evolutionists drew lines on a map to determine a hierarchy of nations at the start of the Progressive Era. That's why Jews, Italians, Russians and other people with ancestors who lived in that area can be "White" or "Black" depending on which way the wind blows.

  • NoVaNick||

    Mediterranean and Alpine nations were in the middle group when evolutionists drew lines on a map to determine a hierarchy of nations at the start of the Progressive Era.

    Alpine nations perhaps, but Mediterraneans were consider to be at best a half-step above the darkies. Definitely not in the middle group.

  • NoVaNick||

    it's gotten very complicated to figure out when it's okay to bash Jews and when it's not.

    For the progressive left, its been OK to bash Jews for at least the past 30 years, despite there being many secular Jews among them. Because Israel.

  • mtrueman||

    'its been OK to bash Jews for at least the past 30 years, despite there being many secular Jews among them. Because Israel.'

    Since the nineteen sixty-seven war, is more accurate. Leftists started to abandon Israel, or the Jewish State as many Jews would have it.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Americans who don't like right-wing belligerence at home have no reason to subsidize it, at great and varied cost, in Israel -- as Israel and its current supporters seem destined to learn soon enough.

  • Microaggressor||

    Title IX deals with gender discrimination, not ethnic or religious discrimination blasphemy, but the complaint landed in the lap of a bureaucrat priest with an interest in pursuing the matter

    Now it actually makes sense.

    Indeed, CUNY had not even bothered to name a policy that Mutis might have broken, since there is none.

    Cute.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I think the complaint has merit, because the comment created a hostile climate to people with ties to Israel in a forum that they could not easily leave. It's not the same as holding a rally against the Fulbright scholarship or complaining about it in a non-essential forum.

    Consider this, if someone made a point of arguing every time a fellowship to study in Haiti was posted on the listserve, even Democratics would have trouble responding to this behavior with an OK sign.

  • Zeb||

    If the listserv is intended for academic discussion relevant to the E department, I don't think it would have been inappropriate to have a moderator remove the unpleasant and irrelevant comments and ask that people not make such comments. But those rules should be clearly stated. Investigation and/or punishment for the comments is a bit much, though.

  • ||

    The 'continued to do so' I think is the key here. It's a list serv, so the 'Fuck Israel' stuff only stays at the top or even on the list as long as people keep revisiting or re-initiating the topic. Sounds like something that easily constitutes harassment or public nuisance or whatever.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Mutis wisely brought along a lawyer...

    Did the lawyer's last name end in -stein?

    Also, who is Garcia?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Alfredo Garcia, who if you remember impregnated el jefe's daughter.

  • AxelJones||

    Bring me his head.

  • FreeRadical||

    I had the same problem Re Garcia. I had a hard time parsing the story because the name Garcia was introduced with no context.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's still there! This better be like a Chekhov's Gacia, with a big payoff coming later on.

  • Echospinner||

    Jerry Garcia?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    I think Garcia is the student who filed the complaint.

  • Eddy||

    Judaism is a gender now?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    What isn't? Other than male, of course.

  • Eddy||

    Pope Francis Pope-splains who the real victims are in these Catholic scandals:

    "In these times, it seems like the 'Great Accuser' has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The 'Great Accuser', as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, 'roams the earth looking for someone to accuse'. A bishop's strength against the 'Great Accuser' is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world."

  • damikesc||

    Good lord Francis is the worst Pope of my lifetime.

    No wonder the Left loves him. He's working hard to kill the church.

  • Bob Meyer||

    Check out Pius XII. As Cardinal he negotiated the infamous Concordat of 1933 wherein every bishop in Germany took an oath of fealty (an actual medieval oath) to the German state which meant that every bishop in Germany was now a vassal of Adolf Hitler.

    Many popes have bad histories which must be a terrible problem for religious Catholics.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Yeah, cases like this are why Jews believe Satan is a necessary part of life.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    But ... it's a bit off the topic of this post.

  • perlchpr||

    Great Scott. I can't believe this guy.

  • Echospinner||

    The great accuser. Sa'tan in the book of Job. It does not mean the devil. There is no external power to be unleashed. To use this reference the pope must mean an internal drive. The part of us which judges unjustly.

    Job is like Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Song of Solomon, Esther, it is Ketuvim. Literally "writings" the collection of prose, poetry and stories preserved from ancient times.

    There is a phrase from Job in the movie Ferris Buellers Day Off. Anyone catch Rooney saying it? Then again Ferris quotes John Lennon who might have been a psalmist, Bob Dylan was for sure.

  • esteve7||

    So? These petty tyrants want to bring their fascism to the public life. What they can't get accomplished in public because of the 1st, 5th, etc amendments, they want to run and end-around in college instead.

  • esteve7||

    So? These petty tyrants want to bring their fascism to the public life. What they can't get accomplished in public because of the 1st, 5th, etc amendments, they want to run and end-around in college instead.

  • damikesc||

    I encourage this type of trolling.

    Again, you won't make change until the loudest cunts are made to live by their rules.

  • GoatOnABoat||

    "I understand free speech" said the student.

    That makes me laugh and cry at the same time. And stop using rude, sexist words like cuny...

  • ||

    Not only is he missing the boat on free speech, he is missing it on what it means to be Jewish. Has he even read the Torah? Persecution is the core of Judaism.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    CUNY's only response should have been a form letter to both parties saying "solve your own damn problem".

  • NoVaNick||

    But if they did that, how would they justify the raise/promotion they will give to the campus diversity officers who investigated this case?

  • Uncle Jay||

    Freedom of speech is not tolerated in academia.
    It may lead to thinking outside of the box.
    Then people might question our socialist betters ideas and plans.
    That will only lead to more little people leaving the plantation.
    Then where the people who indoctrinate our children be?
    Nothing but bad comes from such ugly and nefarious ideas like freedom of speech.

  • Echospinner||

    Whatever the anti Israel person said does not matter. The scholarship is available in 125 countries including Israel which has top rated research and post graduate opportunities in medicine, science, technology and other fields. It is included in the list of places to apply for the coveted scholarship as it should be.

  • Eddy||

    The idea that "we'll investigate your speech for a prolonged period of time and then grudgingly conclude that your speech is protected by the First Amendment" doesn't measure up to constitutional standards, as I understand them. There's a chilling effect in even being investigated.

    If college authorities get a claim a student said something bad, the complaint should spell out what it was that was said. If the remark attributed to the student is a clear expression of First Amendment rights, the college should take no more than two days (being generous) to throw the complaint out.

  • Eddy||

    I didn't see the full discussion, but expressions like "sick zionist propaganda" seem to me to qualify as opinion - conclusions you have the right to draw from your premises.

    You're entitled to think zionism is evil, and that encouragement of study abroad in Israel (or whatever it was) aids zionism.

    It would be different if they'd said "the director of the Fulbright program is a Mossad agent." That could be dealt with in a defamation suit, not by the university.

  • Longtobefree||

    Who cares? It's New York.

  • DajjaI||

    Gosh I'm starting to think this whole 'antisemitism' thing is just a myth.

  • Bob Meyer||

    I went to CCNY in the 1960's. It looks like the school is being run by some of my classmates who never left academia.

  • Cathy L||

    You didn't read the Singal article very closely. The case was investigated under Title VI, not Title IX. It was originally reported to the chief diversity officer, who is also the Title IX coordinator but does not deal exclusively with Title IX.

  • Benitacanova||

    Free speech always wins when jews are dissed. But try dissing the pet protected groups and see how fast the 1st is abandoned.

  • David Axelrod||

    American colleges and universities are the WORST place you could send your child to for an education.

  • Cthulunotmyfriend||

    Even if I disagree with your point of you, I will fight for your right to say it.
    I am glad this article was written because we need to keep fighting for the 1st Ammendment. Even if I think the guy who wrote on the listserv was a bigot and jerk, he'd did not deserve to be treated that way. Our country really has failed to respect free speech.

    However, the university bashing comments on this thread are just plain stupid. Yes, there are a lot of preachy annoying people trying to get everyone to obsess over their own speech at many universities, But... Most students work hard, or at least that's the case in the Maths , Sciences, and Engineering. We have the best universities in the world for those subjects. I don't know what the anti college crowd studied, if anything. To stay ahead we need to keep being the best innovators, and college can be very useful in that regard. Don't act like a Luddite!

  • gphx||

    Offended people should be required to wear pink vagina hats as a warning to others.

  • macsnafu||

    "Triggered"? It's amazing just how many people have PTSD!

  • Mauser||

    What a bunch of poppycock. So the statute of limitations does not matter anymore? Any [male] can now have his career derailed by vague allegations from eons ago.

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