Even though most students are headed back to Colorado College for the spring semester, Thaddeus Pryor will not.
According to a statement by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), that’s because Colorado College suspended him for the six-word post he put on the social media site Yik Yak.
Pryor took responsibility for a comment posted under “#blackwomenmatter,” which read, “They matter, they’re just not hot.”
FIRE’s statement also says even though Pryor insisted his post was a joke, the Colorado College found that he violated its “Abusive Behavior” and “Disruption of College Activities” policies, and suspended him for two years.
On appeal, and with the help from FIRE, Colorado College cut Pryor’s suspension to six months, during which he cannot attend classes on campus or at any other institution for course credit.
FIRE wrote to the college’s Board of Trustees last week asking the college to reinstate Pryor on campus.
According to FIRE’s statement, “Although Colorado College is a private institution, and thus is not bound by the First Amendment, it promises free speech to its students—a promise it has broken by suspending Pryor solely for his expression. On November 25, 2015, FIRE first urged the college to honor its moral and contractual commitment to free speech in a letter to Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler. After Tiefenthaler failed to respond, FIRE reached out to the trustees.”
Senior Program Officer of FIRE, Ari Cohn, said that the college’s actions towards Pryor are “unacceptable.”
Colleges should teach their students a thing or two about how to use social media, not punish them for using it.
“An arbitrary six-month suspension that violates Colorado College’s promise of free speech is better than a two-year suspension, but it’s still unacceptable,” said Cohn, in a previous statement. “By twisting its policies to fit the desired outcome, Colorado College has rendered its promises to students utterly meaningless. The trustees now have a chance to ensure that Colorado College’s word actually means something by allowing Pryor to come back to class immediately.”
After reading this, I was reminded of Trey Barnett’s case from last spring.
Barnett was suspended from the University of Tulsa for comments on Facebook that were posted by his husband; the comments were directed at some of the university’s faculty members for “not setting a good example” for students, and to protect Barnett from being bullied.
However, the University of Tulsa still found Barnett responsible for harassment, and punished him threefold: the university suspended him from campus until 2016, waived his right to a hearing, and banned him from finishing his degree in his major when he returns to campus this year.
Even though both Colorado College and the University of Tulsa are private institutions, I’m not sure why they feel they can control their students’ freedom of speech.
In Pryor’s case, I’m not sure he deserved such a harsh punishment, or punishment at all for that matter.