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Speech Codes at Wesleyan U. Earn it Worst Rating from FIRE

Speech Codes at Wesleyan U. Earn it Worst Rating from FIRE

“The devil, as is usual with speech codes, is in the details.”

The speech codes are made to sound like they’re in the best interests of students but they stifle free speech.

From the FIRE blog:

Why Wesleyan’s speech policies earn a red light rating

As a student at Wesleyan University, I have to say that my initial read of our Student Handbook made it seem pretty reasonable. So why does it merit a harsh “Red Light” rating from FIRE? The policies in question deal with “discriminatory harassment” and grant students the “right to abstain from performing acts and the right to be protected against actions that may be harmful to the health or emotional stability of the individual or that degrade the individual or infringe upon his/her personal dignity.” It’s hard at first to understand why this policy should be changed, as it appears to be aimed at protecting students from harm and little else.

The devil, as is usual with speech codes, is in the details. Wesleyan’s definitions of “discriminatory harassment” and “harm” are, to borrow a phrase from First Amendment doctrine, “overbroad.” Discriminatory harassment, according to Wesleyan’s speech code, consists of “…any action or statement intended to insult, stigmatize, or degrade an individual or group…” based on a list of protected categories such as race and sex. The problem is that this definition includes both proscribable harassment and merely offensive speech. A student could prompt an investigation by the administration for relatively innocuous speech if someone reports their speech as discriminatory harassment.

Another rule in the handbook is similarly flawed. Section 7, which aims to protect students from “harm” and from comments that “degrade…[their] personal dignity” is also overbroad and vague. Similar to the discrimination policy, the description encompasses both extremely degrading actions, such as sexual assault, and smaller moments of alleged degradation, such as offensive speech from a controversial lecturer invited to speak on campus.


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