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Syracuse University Punishes Student for Asking Man at Party if He is a Canadian Sex Offender

Syracuse University Punishes Student for Asking Man at Party if He is a Canadian Sex Offender

“Syracuse’s nebulous ban on ‘mental harm’ means students don’t know if they can ask questions or discuss sexual misconduct without getting in trouble”

Syracuse has a policy against causing others mental harm. That’s what’s being enforced here.

From the FIRE blog:

Syracuse punishes student for asking man at party if he’s a Canadian sex offender

She’d heard rumors that the guy at the party had a history of problematic behavior toward women. So Syracuse University freshman Samantha Jones went right up to him and asked: Was he a registered sex offender?

Now, Syracuse is enforcing its ban on causing “mental harm” to punish the 18-year-old biology student for her question. It’s a move that adds to Syracuse’s troubling history of censorship and raises new questions about the vulnerability of Syracuse students who report or discuss sexual misconduct on campus.

“Syracuse’s nebulous ban on ‘mental harm’ means students don’t know if they can ask questions or discuss sexual misconduct without getting in trouble,” said FIRE Program Officer Alex Morey. “Administrators should take action now to ensure these kinds of vague policies don’t infringe students’ core expressive rights.”

In October, having heard rumors of past predatory behavior, Jones approached a fellow student at an off-campus party and asked him if he is a registered sex offender in his native country, Canada.

He reported the incident to campus police, who referred the matter to Syracuse’s Office of Community Standards. Last month, the University Conduct Board found Jones responsible for violating a ban on “[c]onduct, whether physical, electronic, oral, written or video, which threatens the mental health, physical health, or safety of anyone.” Jones has since been placed on disciplinary probation and is required to attend “Decision-Making” and “Conflict Coaching” workshops.

“Accusing someone of something that has no validity, especially being on a sex offender list can harm one’s mental health and safety,” wrote Syracuse administrator Sheriah Dixon in a December memo detailing Jones’ formal punishment. The problem with this assessment? Jones didn’t accuse the man of anything. The Conduct Board’s own findings conclude plainly that all Jones did was seek clarification about rumors.


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The Gentle Grizzly | January 20, 2022 at 8:38 am

Which was the bad part? Canadian? Or sex offender?

Repeat ten times: universities have no jurisdiction to regulate speech at off-campus parties. (or anywhere else off-campus.)

    Milhouse in reply to lawgrad. | January 20, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    They do if the penalty they impose is within their authority, as it is here. It doesn’t matter where the conduct being punished took place, or what it was. Since this is a private university it can even punish students for exercising their constitutional rights. If you don’t like it, don’t do business with it.

      healthguyfsu in reply to Milhouse. | January 21, 2022 at 1:09 am

      While you are correct, they are not autonomous dictators, even the private ones. Americans still have rights and they may have just violated her first amendment rights…she has grounds for a suit considering she didn’t even come close to “fire” in a crowded theater type exceptions.

        Milhouse in reply to healthguyfsu. | January 21, 2022 at 11:20 am

        No, they did not violate her first amendment rights, because she has none against them. The constitution only binds the government. It’s the law that defines the government’s powers and limits what it can do. It has nothing to do with private actors. Americans have no rights against private actors except those the law provides. So the only grounds for a suit would be breach of contract, if this condition was not disclosed to her in advance. But it probably was, she just never imagined it would be used in this unfair way.

Furthermore, by disciplining her, was Syracuse not causing mental harm to Jones? Yes, there have to be no exceptions.

Clearly the punishment here was so grossly disproportionate to the essentially trivial incident, as to itself be offensive.

So, according to Syracuse University, “Are you x?” is equivalent to “You are x”, since they are treating the question as an accusation.

This seems like an argument for everyone withdrawing their children (or themselves) from the university, since if its functionaries are incompetent to tell the difference between questions and statements, they are probably not capable of providing a sound education on any topic.