This Month in FIRE History: Students Found Guilty for Satirical Flyer at Colorado College
April 23, 2009
I hardly have to "look back" in order to find the most disturbing April case in our 10-year history. Just last year Colorado College gained its place on our Red Alert (worst of the worst) list through its treatment of the satirical flyer "The Monthly Bag" and the students responsible for it.
In January 2008, a group of students identifying themselves as the "Feminist and Gender Studies Interns" published a flyer entitled "The Monthly Rag." The flyer contained, among other things, a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn" by a "world-famous prostitute and porn star," an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto.
In a clear parody of "The Monthly Rag," two students going by the pseudonym "The Coalition of Some Dudes" published a flyer called "The Monthly Bag." The flyer included references to "tough guy wisdom," "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse" against men from the website batteredmen.com.
President Richard Celeste denounced the "The Monthly Bag" in an e-mail to the student body, calling it "demeaning" and asking the authors to reveal their identities. The two students responsible came forward immediately, but they were subjected to a long show trial and then were found responsible for sexually related "violence" because of their "juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality" in the flyer. Disciplinary letters were placed in both students' files, where they remain until graduation.
As a private college, Colorado College is bound by its stated policies, including one that states, "On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed."
As Greg pointed out at the time, this case was an example of an egregious double standard:
One flyer that mentions 'male castration' is not violence, but a flyer that makes fun of it by mentioning 'chainsaws' is prohibited? Both should be protected, but the double standard and lack of respect for freedom of speech in this case is simply staggering ... Colorado College is brazenly violating its own promise of freedom of expression, as well as both fairness and common sense. Colorado College should reject both double standards and censorship.
Of course, double standards are not new to FIRE. But this case reached infamy by coupling double standards with an imaginary threat of "violence," as well as an apparently willful misunderstanding of the point of a parody. Most importantly, it is one of the few cases in which a college has remained stubborn in the face of overwhelming evidence and public pressure.
We continue to remind Colorado College that all it has to do in order to get off of our Red Alert list and avoid being featured in another full page ad in U.S. News & World Report is to remove the letters from the students' files. It is unfortunate that Colorado College and Richard Celeste do not seem willing to save themselves the embarrassment, and worse still that students at Colorado College continue to risk punishment simply for trying to exercise the right to free speech they were promised.