“defines harassment in its student handbook so broadly that students could be punished for speech that an administrator thinks was intended to humiliate or mentally harm someone”
The policy at Union is so bad that it earned FIRE’s speech code of the month.
From the FIRE blog:
April 2021 Speech Code of the Month: Union College
Speech that is a part of unlawful conduct like harassment isn’t protected by the First Amendment, but that doesn’t give college administrators a license to ban anything they decide to call harassment.
Union College, which is a private institution in Schenectady, New York that promises its students free speech rights, defines harassment in its student handbook so broadly that students could be punished for speech that an administrator thinks was intended to humiliate or mentally harm someone, but that didn’t actually have that effect. That’s why Union earns our Speech Code of the Month designation for April 2021.
Union defines harassment as “aggressive and hostile” acts “which are intended to humiliate, mentally, or physically injure or intimidate, and/or control” others (emphasis ours). That’s not even close to the legal definition of harassment.
The U.S. Supreme Court set forth the controlling standard for student-on-student (or peer) harassment in the educational setting in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, providing that alleged harassment must be conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that the student is “effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities” in order to be punishable. That “objectively offensive” part means the conduct needs to be found offensive from the perspective of a reasonable person in the victim’s shoes — not just from the perspective of a particular student or administrator.
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