“Syracuse Punishes Student for Asking Man at Party if He’s a Canadian Sex Offender”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

There were rumors about a man who had been known to have exhibited problematic behavior towards women in the past. Samantha Jones, a freshman at Syracuse University, approached him to ask: Is he a registered sexual offender?

Now, Syracuse is enforcing its ban on causing “mental harm” to punish the 18-year-old biology student for her question….

The incident was reported to campus police by Jones, who in turn referred the matter the Syracuse Office of Community Standards. Jones was convicted by the University Conduct Board for violating “a ban on” last month.[c]Any conduct, including oral, written, electronic or oral, that threatens anyone’s mental or physical safety, is called onduct. Jones was placed on disciplinary probation. He is now required to attend the “Decision Making” and “Conflict Coaching” workshops.

Sheriah Dixon, Syracuse administrator wrote in December that Jones was being accused of something without validity. What is the problem with that assessment? Jones never accused the man of any offense. According to the Conduct Board, Jones only sought clarification on rumors.

Below is the main excerpt of those findings.

See here for FIRE’s letter to Syracuse. My belief is that university policies and law could prohibit you talking to someone directly if the person asks. This can be despite the subject of your speech.

But Syracuse’s ban on “conduct, whether physical, electronic, oral, written or video, which threatens the mental health … of anyone” is not such a policy. The policy does not limit itself only to speech To A person. It could cover speech. About A person. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they impose this kind of “stop speaking to me” rule. This is generally more general and vague than it should be.

Syracuse University is not a public university and is therefore not subject to First Amendment regulations. However, it is protected by New York’s law which prohibits “arbitrary and capricious decisions” by private universities. However, Syracuse has “committed” to Syracuse.[ment] to … freedom of expression,” I think it’s rightly faulted for having such a vague and broad rule, and for applying it the way it has here.