Student suspended from Colorado College for social media posts speaks out

By December 22, 2015social4parents

coloradoInstead of sitting in class at Colorado College on Monday, Thaddeus Pryor was sitting at his family’s home in southwest Colorado. He is no longer welcome on campus.

Pryor, a junior, said he was “suspended for two years” on the Friday before the Thanksgiving break for a six-word post on the anonymous Yik Yak social media application.

In response to someone else’s post, #blackwomenmatter, Pryor wrote, “They matter, they’re just not hot.”

“It could be considered as mean,” Pryor said in a phone interview Monday. “But I did not mean it as hateful or violent or anything of that sort.”

Administrators determined that Pryor violated the school’s code of conduct policies for “abusive behavior” and “disruption of college activities.”

CC officials will not discuss the issue.

“Federal privacy laws do not allow us to disclose information about student disciplinary action,” a spokeswoman said in an email.

Pryor said he is prohibited from stepping on campus grounds but technically remains registered as a student.

“It’s kind of a slap in the face,” he said. “Effectively, giving an upperclassman a two-year suspension is an expulsion.”

His housemate, Lou Henriques, was expelled permanently on the same day for Yik Yak posts quoting a South Park episode in which a character appears on the Wheel of Fortune and tries to solve a “People Who Annoy You” puzzle with the letters N_GGERS showing. The correct answer is revealed to be “NAGGERS.” Henriques also referenced a “race war” in his posts. He could not be reached for comment.

Pryor said someone reported his identity to the administration about his post referring to black women, and while he admits to writing the comment, he said he did not write racial slurs that had been posted on Yik Yak earlier in November. One of those said blacks should “go back to the cotton fields,” and other comments talked about white supremacy.

“I said I had written that six-word comment and I apologized – I owned the whole thing,” Pryor said. “They accused me of writing the other heinous and offensive things, but I have no idea who wrote those. Those used language that is racist and hateful and that I don’t agree with.”

The Yik Yak posts started with references to white students’ hygiene, shower habits and soap usage. The content of posts made in response escalated.

The college, which enrolls about 2,000 students, held a campus-wide assembly on Nov. 16, with President Jill Tiefenthaler condemning the racial slurs and students talking about their experiences with racism on campus and how it has affected them.

Several black female students said they were hurt by what they interpreted as being called ugly in what was later revealed as Pryor’s Yik Yak post.

After Pryor and his roommate were kicked out of school, students again took to Yik Yak, with some expressing support for the students and others rejoicing at the punishment. Some students posted that they felt the punishment was disproportionate to the act committed, and that free speech was being destroyed because the posts were made in a lighthearted manner more than anything. Others applauded the no-tolerance approach from the administration.

Recent high-profile incidents involving racism on college campuses, including at the University of Missouri where problems resulted in its president stepping down, have led to administrators taking “the most extreme action possible,” said Ari Cohn, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization defends freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty and other issues on college campuses.

“You generally don’t hear much dissent; they say we’ll throw the book at these students but we’re not going to get any political backlash for expelling these students for being racist,” he said.

Earlier this year, three students at the Bucknell University radio station were expelled for allegedly making racist remarks on air, North Carolina State University disbanded a fraternity after a pledge book containing racist and sexist language became public, and the University of Oklahoma expelled two members of a fraternity and punished others involved with singing a racist song on video.

Punishment in the cases was swift, coming days after reported problems. And at CC, Pryor said he was suspended a day after being summoned to a hearing.

“The impetus behind this is not necessarily sinister,” Cohn said. “College administrators are morally obligated to provide any kind of resource, such as counseling, for minority students who have experienced racism, but if you swing too far on the other side and start expelling students who are either racist or perceived as being racist, it starts to encroach on First Amendment rights at public universities and at private colleges starts to betray the ideals of higher education – that the campus is a marketplace of ideas where we debate things.”

Pryor has appealed his disciplinary action and said he was told his request would be considered after school resumed.

Pryor said he requested a new hearing in front of higher-ranking college officials. The first hearing body consisted of two campus deans, he said.

In his appeal, Pryor said he had not had any previous disciplinary offenses and cited what he believes are violations of the school’s code of conduct policies pertaining to how his case was handled.

“I’ve never heard of a suspension for two years,” he said. “There have been shorter suspensions and lesser punishments for things related to sexual assault and physical violence.”