It’s Not ‘Bullying’ To Satirize a Student Organization

Rory O’Connor, a sophomore at Catholic University of America (CUA), joined the discussion by sharing a series of critical memes via social media when the Young Americans for Freedom chapter debated transgender athletes’ participation in women’s sport. 

Surprised, the university investigated him for “disorderly behavior”

All this began on March 23, when the school’s YAF chapter published an image of a transgender swimmer Lia ThomasIts Instagram account. Its caption said, “Change your mind: Save Women’s Sports.” This invitation invited critics to visit the PryzbylaUniversity Center and discuss the matter.

O’Connor was only aware of the incident after the end. The next day, he posted to his Instagram account to express passionate disagreement with YAF. O’Connor launched a “cyberbullying campaign” against the club, consisting of 19 Instagram Stories. Most of these were memes he had edited in response to perceived transphobia by YAF.

This post will eventually be shortened to one. O’Connor’s viral meme of a children’s cartoon was the center of all the drama. ArthurThe image shows a male character with a baseball bat. The original caption was edited to say “My terms to end cyber billing.” [sic]The @catholicuyaf rules are very simple. Do you want to keep you post or keep you kneecaps?

In another, he made his opinion on transgender athletes clear: “If you preach love for *all* of God’s children, you better mean all of them—trans and LGBTQ+ people included. For fuck’s sake, don’t make anyone feel guilty about some memes. You don’t have to talk about the trans people you hate for their lives.

O’Connor explains that his intention was to satirize and criticize the Catholic U YAF because, “what I believe at minimum, was a blatantly excluded and disrespectful event.” Reason. I meant it in good humor. It wasn’t a joke for everyone.

Representatives of the YAF Chapter filed a ReportedThe university received a complaint from students about “a number of Instagram stories all tag @catholicuyaf”, which they sent to their administrators. Each of these Instagram stories is misrepresentative and inaccurate in its portrayal of our views, tabling, as well as our individuality. According to the complaint, harassment was claimed.

O’Connor was subsequently investigated by the university. On March 29, O’Connor was arrested. LetterThe student’s administrators informed him about the charges against him for violating Student Conduct Code and engaging in disorderly conduct. This was due to claims that he had “threatened Young Americans for Freedom members with bodily harm via.” [his]Insta photo. He was then summoned to a student conduct conference—potentially facing suspension or expulsion, according to school policy.

This is when Foundation for Individual Rights in Education stepped in.

Sabrina Conza (programmer officer for FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program) wrote to Catholic University demanding that the investigation be halted. Conza argues, however the Instagram stories could have been offensive to YAF members or allies, that they were clearly satirical and thus protected speech.

According to Conza, the memes do not rise to the level of a genuine threat, and, therefore, punishment would violate the university’s guarantee of free speech for students—not to mention its “no cancellation” Politique. Catholic University is an institution of the private type and, therefore, not subject to First Amendment. However, it has institutional EngagementIt is legally obligated by contract to keep students’ promises about open speech and to protect it. In addition, it is argued that the investigation might lead to the suppression of expression on campus around controversial issues.

Conza explains that O’Connor’s posting uses a common meme to attack YAF’s view on transgender athlete, a topic on the which YAF has specifically asked students to participate.” Reason. “Now, that the university has been told the joke, they must immediately stop their investigation and reiterate their commitment to freedom of speech.”

Catholic University declined to comment on the request, however it is clear that FIRE was able to exert pressure.

O’Connor was found not to be responsible for disorderly conduct at Monday’s hearing after YAF members admitted that they didn’t feel threatened by the postings. In the end, the Office of Student Conduct & Ethical Development acknowledged O’Connor’s intent was satirical and not genuinely menacing.

O’Connor claims he is “vindicated” by the results. O’Connor says that he feels grateful for the enormous help provided by FIRE. It could have been a whole lot different.

Ultimately, regardless of which side you are on regarding transgender athletes, and regardless of whether YAF members were wrong to be offended by the matter, it is up to administrators to ensure that they respond in a fair and appropriate manner. Catholic University sided with free speech after some pressure from FIRE.