“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and recently has become an issue of debate because of the comments made by one Texas Christian University student.
Harry Vincent, a Maryland resident, has been in the news because of his suspension from Texas Christian University after a series of racially offensive tweets. Vincent’s posts included referred to Baltimore residents who were protesting the killing of Freddie Gray as “poor uneducated druggy hoodrats” and saying that such “hoodrat criminals” needed to be “exiled to the Sahara desert.” He went on to use derogatory Hispanic slurs, claimed he was “as tan as a terrorist,” stated that he would be disappointed if not racially profiled and labeled all of Islam as being “clearly not a religion of peace,” calling President Obama to step up and take action.
As shocking as these remarks are, what is more startling is the lack of outrage from the general public. Many of the social tweets have likes or favorites, and some of these posts even have replies that support his consistently racist and disrespectful words.
Luckily, one girl, who would like to go by Kelsey, decided to speak out against Vincent’s remarks. To this Vincent replied, from his ironically named twitter handle @ClassyPatriot, “chill the f**k out you Islamic s**t head.” This was enough for Kelsey to take more action.
She chose to post images of Vincent’s posts to her Tumblr page. She said she felt she had to take action because, “His tweets were offensive across the board and deeply rooted in hatred.” She chose to take to Tumblr because “Tumblr was a social media platform that allowed a lot of people to see and share what he said.”
Kelsey was right, and many people saw the atrocity of Vincent’s online racist tirades, including the TCU administration. The university chose to suspend Vincent for violation of two codes in their student handbook: 3.2.1 Infliction of bodily or emotional harm, and 3.2.13 Disorderly conduct.
As a result of the violation, the sanctions applied included taking a course in diversity, 60 hours of community service, regular meetings with the Associate Dean, and a one year suspension from living in TCU campus provided housing.
The ruling has brought tons of flack TCU’s way. Headlines such as Texas Christian University Tramples Student’s Rights in Order to Appease Angry Internet Mob, and TCU Hands Down Harsh Punishment For Controversial Tweets flooded the internet.
These articles all generally say the same things, that Vincent has been robbed of his rights given to him in the first amendment. However, the First Amendment doesn’t give anyone the right to say whatever they want. There are multiple exceptions to the amendment, which make multiple forms of speech not protected. In the 1942 Supreme Court case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the court ruled that hateful insulting speech deemed to be “fighting words” are words “that by their very utterance inflict (physical or emotional) injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality” (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942).
Vincent’s words exemplify the type of speech the court did not want to be protected. Creating unfair generalizations about Baltimore protestors and then suggesting that they be shipped to the Sahara does not provide any social value. Despite Vincent’s words not being a form of protected speech, the debate is moot. TCU is a private university, and therefore is not legally bound by the first amendment. The university does say they allow their students free speech, although nothing outside of the constitution is promised, legally demanded, or expected.
The only code that TCU is bound to follow is that written in their student handbook. So did the university correctly decide that Vincent violated code? According to the TCU student handbook, the Vincent’s first violation was Section 3.2.1 infliction of bodily or emotional harm. “This is described in the handbook as "Infliction or threat of infliction of bodily or emotional harm, whether done intentionally or otherwise.” The code goes on to say that this can happen through a number of methods, such as verbal harassment, hate crimes, and biased related incidents.
Regardless of his intent, to claim that there was no emotional harm caused from these hurtful comments would be foolish.
The second section of the student handbook Vincent was allegedly in violation of is Section 3.2.13 Disorderly Conduct. TCU describes this as “Any conduct that is considered inappropriate and/or inconsistent with the University’s mission, vision, or core values.” One of the specifically listed ways to exhibit such conduct is “disrespectful online presence.”
I find it very hard to believe that Vincent’s posts could be considered a respectful online presence, much less in accordance with the mission, vision, or core values of a private Christian university.
Vincent has defended his claims by saying that they are not offensive or racist, but rather that they have been taken out of context. Now maybe it’s just me, but in what context could the phrase “Islamic s**t head” or being “as tan as a terrorist” and deserving of racial profiling be considered not racist?
Vincent was not blindsided or victimized by TCU . He was the subject of the university enforcing rules that he agreed to follow when he chose to attend the university.
There is more to be alarmed by than just the comments of one insensitive kid. I personally have seen a shocking number of other young people coming to Vincent’s defense. Is this because they have read the student handbook and disagree with TCU? Or do they agree with Vincent's opinions? Vincent made a mistake, but no one should make the same one by supporting his hateful outburst. Hate speech and other forms of discrimination happen at BC as well. We go to a private Christian university just like Vincent did, and are subject to the same types of consequences for inappropriate actions. It is our responsibility to create a community on campus of acceptance, not of ignorance.
College students need to realize the repercussions of what they say on the Internet and need to learn what speech is and is not protected by our government. But most importantly, we need to shed our hate and prejudice and learn tolerance instead.