Howard U student “believed the question’s premise somehow required her to reveal to the class whether she’d had a Brazilian wax”
Howard University law professor Reginald Robinson has been the subject of 504-day Title IX investigation based on two student complaints about a test question involving a Brazilian wax lawsuit. Robinson is now required to undergo mandatory sensitivity training, prior administrative review of future test questions, and classroom observation.
As described by Cosmo, during a Brazilian wax, “they take the hair off the top and sides of the bikini line, but also all the way under and around the back, too. [emphasis not mine]”
Howard University has found a professor of law guilty of sexual harassment in relation to a 2015 test question involving Brazilian waxing. At first blush, it’s the kind of case that might anger even modest professors concerned about the rising tide of what’s been called campus illiberalism, or student calls for censorship of emotionally discomfiting speech.
But Reginald Robinson’s full question about a client who fell asleep during a wax and later alleged improper touching is rather graphic, with references to a “landing strip,” hairlessness from “belly button to buttocks” and more. Still, some free speech and academic freedom advocates are calling Howard’s response excessive: mandatory sensitivity training for Robinson, prior administrative review of his future test questions, classroom observation and a warning that any further violations of the university’s sexual harassment policies may result in termination.
Two students complained about the question, and the resulting Title IX investigation ensued.
On May 4, law professor Reginald Robinson was deemed responsible for sexual harassment after two students complained about a test question involving a Brazilian wax and an upset client. After a 504-day investigation, administrators determined that Robinson would be required to undergo mandatory sensitivity training, prior administrative review of future test questions, and classroom observation. Robinson also received a stern warning that any further “violations” of the university’s Title IX policies may result in his termination.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Howard on June 16 demanding that Robinson’s sanctions be removed. Howard did not respond by FIRE’s June 30 deadline.
“Robinson’s test question clearly does not constitute sexual harassment,” said Susan Kruth, FIRE’s senior program officer for legal and public advocacy. “Howard’s overreaction to a simple hypothetical question is a threat to academic freedom and a professor’s ability to effectively teach students.”
During a September 2015 class, a female student challenged a test question’s premise that a person could sleep through a Brazilian wax. After a complaint to administrators by two students and a 16-month investigation, Robinson was informed that one of the students allegedly believed the question’s premise somehow required her to reveal to the class whether she’d had a Brazilian wax. This dubious assertion, coupled with the use of the word “genitals” in the law school test question, contributed to then-Deputy Title IX Coordinator Candi Smiley’s determination that Robinson is guilty of sexual harassment.
Howard is a private university, and as such, the university is not bound by the First Amendment; however, their academic freedom policy is clear in its promise to uphold student and faculty free speech and academic freedom rights.
Although Howard is a private institution and thus not bound by the First Amendment, the university explicitly promises its students and faculty members free speech and academic freedom rights. These sanctions run counter to Howard’s own academic freedom policy, which states that faculty members are “entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects.”
“My case should worry every faculty member at Howard University, and perhaps elsewhere, who teaches in substantive areas like law, medicine, history, and literature. Why? None of these academic areas can be taught without evaluating and discussing contextual facts, especially unsavory and emotionally charged ones,” said Robinson. “I also can’t prepare my students adequately for legal practice if I can’t teach them new developments and require them to read unedited, unfiltered cases.”
Howard’s actions are part of a nationwide trend of restricting free speech under the guise of addressing sexual harassment. [emphasis not mine]
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