Friends’ jokes deemed ‘harassment’

A black guy and a white guy are joking around while playing beer pong in a college dorm room. The black student shouts “Team Nigga” when his team scores a point. The white student, a football team mate, says, “How about a white power?,” an inside joke. The black student replies, “White power!” Someone down the hall hears the jokes. Both students were found guilty of creating a “hostile and discriminatory environment” at Lewis & Clark College.

“If it really wants to fight racism on campus, Lewis & Clark should stop wasting its time on jokes among friends who happen to have different skin colors,” said Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Student suspended for questioning governor

After questioning Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy about gun control legislation, Asnuntuck Community College student Nicholas Saucier was escorted off campus, suspended and found guilty of harassment. At his hearing, officials refused to review his videos of the incident, complains FIRE.

Most community college professors don’t speak out on education issues, writes an instructor. “Many two-year campuses are run more like high schools than colleges . . . Much like school principals, some community-college presidents believe it is their role, and theirs alone, to speak out on issues of concern.”

FIRE: 59% of colleges restrict free speech

Nearly 60 percent of U.S. colleges and universities restrict free speech rights, according to Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014 by FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education).

The good news: For the sixth consecutive year, however, this percentage has dropped.

The federal government is sending confusing messages about the relationship between harassment and free speech, the report notes.

Rudolph’s revenge

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All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.

Cyber-bullies charged with stalking

Two Florida girls, ages 12 and 14, have been charged with aggravated stalking, a felony, for cyber-bullying a classmate.
Rebecca Sedwick
Rebecca Sedwick, 12, committed suicide in September.

“Witnesses said that the girls sent messages to Rebecca, calling her ugly, telling her to drink bleach and die, and saying Rebecca should kill herself,” reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The “tipping point,” Sheriff Grady Judd said, was when the 14-year-old wrote on a social media site,  “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a fuck] ?”

The girl’s parents deny she sent the message, claiming her Facebook site was hacked.

The girls “repeatedly and maliciously” harassed Rebecca while all three attended Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, investigators said.

“Several students corroborated stories of both girls bullying Sedwick on different occasions, through name-calling, intimidation, threats to beat her up, and at least one actual physical fight,” a Sheriff’s Office report said.

Judd said neither family cooperated with investigators, so the girls were placed under arrest Monday and charged with the third-degree felony. The 12-year-old was released to her parents because she demonstrated remorse to the judge, but she can’t go back to school.

The 14-year-old is in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice until her next hearing.

Slate’s Emily Bazelon is the author of Sticks and Stones, wonders “why are we blaming two young teenagers instead of holding the adults around them—their parents!—responsible?”

Bazelon asked readers why kids write cruel taunts online like “Can u die please?” Caitlin Armtrong, the counselor at Unaka Elementary School in Elizabethton, Tenn., asked the question to 7th graders. Six of 22 said they’d been told they should die or kill themselves. They wrote:

“Its about popularity.  Sometimes, I think people do mean it.  They think it will make you feel like a loser if they tell you that you shouldn’t be alive…and it does.”

“People . . .  don’t know that most kids don’t let these things just roll off. They just aren’t thinking.”

“Kids are mean. It is a simple fact. I’ve been mean.  . . . No one is listening to us, they think we want attention. We don’t. Nobody cares, so it keeps happening.”

“Kids say to go kill yourself because they don’t really know you. And if they don’t know you, they really just don’t care what happens to you.”

“Some kids are just full of hate.”

“It makes them look cool. It is the meanest thing you can say, so they say it. The meaner you are, the cooler you look.”

“Honest conversations with kids” is “the first step to make suicide baiting online unacceptable,” writes Bazelon.

Bullies are narcissists with contempt for their victims, writes Paul Coughlin.

Teacher suspended for profane outburst

A high school English teacher was suspended by Los Angeles Unified for a “profanity-laden outburst” that was recorded by a student. It went viral.

In the clip, which was recorded by a student on Sept. 26, the teacher yells “I know my f–ing s–t. Don’t f— with that. I’m tired of trying to educate you, and you guys resist every step of the f—ing way. Get the f— out of here.”

“You know, I had a weak moment,” the suspended teacher told the Daily Breeze.

The outburst occurred at new school for performing arts, HArts Academy, located on the campus of Narbonne High.

The teacher added that the clip was recorded by a student who had been heckling her in front of the 12th-grade class. That student then allegedly brought the recording to a Narbonne High faculty member with whom the teacher has had an adversarial relationship. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.

Narbonne has refused to let 90 students transfer to HArts, which forced the smaller school to lay off four teachers and let the comprehensive high school hire three teachers, reports the Breeze. Bad blood between the two faculties explains why Narbonne teachers publicized the sound clip, the English teacher said. “These are people who used to be my friends.”

Students are not allowed to have cell phone in class, much less to record their teachers.

When cruel is cool

As an eighth grader in 1986, John Cook urged a girl to commit suicide in the underground newspaper he briefly published with two friends. He accused another of promiscuity. He attacked black teachers and classmates with racial slurs. In Confessions of a Teenage Word-Bully, Cook tries to understand why he did it and the effect on his victims.

Ramming Speed was filled with gutter racism, written by me, that turns my stomach to think of today. It directed at two young girls the same sort of highly public, humiliating sexual slander and innuendo that helped drive 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to kill herself in 2010 in Massachusetts, and it literally called on one of those girls to commit suicide. As much as it was an act of defiance against a school administration we perceived as wanting, it was an act of brutal and indefensible bullying against children we knew to be vulnerable. It was wanton adolescent cruelty of the sort that routinely makes headlines today.

The girl urged to commit suicide by “Ramming Speed” did attempt suicide.

Cook was trying to impress the “cool kids,”  writes Emily Bazelon on Slate. The most promising strategies to prevent bullying rely on shifting the social norms, “figuring out how to make meanness socially costly, as opposed to power-enhancing,” she writes.

Bazelon links to a story on “slut shaming” on WNYC’s Radio Rookies. Reporter Temitayo Fagbenle, 16, interviews a friend who boasts of ruining a girl’s reputation by posting sexual photos of her online. He’s reveling in the “coolness points he scored,” writes Bazelon.

Schools vs. free (rude) speech

What Right Do Schools Have to Discipline Students for What They Say Off Campus? No right at all, argues civil libertarian Wendy Kaminer  in The Atlantic.

Griffith Middle School in Indiana aims to transform “learners today” into “leaders tomorrow.” Leaders of which country, I wonder, after reading the Griffith Middle School Handbook. North Korea? The U.S. Constitution appears to have no standing in Griffith.

Students can be suspended or expelled for “innuendos.”  The ban on profanity, pornography or obscenity includes  “other inappropriate materials” and “using or writing derogatory written materials.”  This is “breathtakingly vague,” Kaminer writes. Griffith students may be expelled for “disrespect” toward staff or other students or for “disruptive behavior,” including “arguing.”

Idiotic rules like this are bound to be enforced idiotically, but the consequences for students are not amusing. Griffith Middle School is now being sued in federal court for expelling three 8th grade girls for engaging in a girlish exchange on Facebook that included jokes about classmates they’d like to kill. Their conversation, which lasted less than two hours, was conducted after school, on their own time and on their own computers.

The girls used “LOL” (laugh out loud), smiley faces and all caps to indicate sarcasm, writes Kaminer. They were joking. One of the allegedly threatened students said he didn’t feel threatened and knew the girls were joking. But someone’s mother complained. The girls were expelled for the rest of the school year for bullying, intimidation and harassment.

The students have a very strong First Amendment case — if the First Amendment retains any relevance in public schools. There’s no question that those of us not in actual or virtual custody of school authorities have the right to make jokes about killing each other. Student rights, however, are increasingly limited; anxiety about social media and hysteria about bullying or drug use have only been exacerbated by the post 9/11 authoritarianism that permeates our culture and our courts.

Has the campaign to end bullying — and the fear of school violence — gone too far?

A six-year-old boy in Colorado was suspended for sexual harassment for saying, “I’m sexy and I know it” to a girl standing next to him in the lunch line. The song is featured in a commercial for M&Ms.

Teen sues over Facebook bullying

Two classmates created a fake Facebook account in 14-year-old Alex Boston’s name, using it to suggest that the Georgia girl is fat, promiscuous, a drug user and a racist. Her middle school principal said the school can’t regulate off-campus activity. So the girl and her parents are suing the cyberbullies for libel.

The page features a distorted photo of  Boston.

The account was also used to post a racist video to YouTube that implied that Boston hated African-Americans, and to leave crude comments on the Facebook pages of other friends, suggesting she was sexually active and smoked marijuana.

. . . The activities exposed Boston to “hatred, contempt and ridicule by her classmates and peers,” according to the complaint, which accuses the teens of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeks punitive damages. The parents of the defendants are named in the suit because they paid for the internet access that allowed their children to create the account and post the messages, and allegedly failed to supervise their activity.

Georgia law doesn’t penalize cyberbullying and schools have no authority over students’ off-campus behavior.

According to the lawyer, Facebook did not respond to requests to delete the false account until after the lawsuit was filed and publicized on CNN.

‘Harassment’ rules threaten free speech

“Overly broad harassment codes remain the weapon of choice on campus to punish speech that administrators dislike,” writes Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, in the Washington Post op-ed.

In a decade fighting campus censorship, I have seen harassment defined as expressions as mild as “inappropriately directed laughter” and used to police students for references to a student government candidate as a “jerk and a fool” (at the University of Central Florida in 2006) and a factually verifiable if unflattering piece on Islamic extremism in a conservative student magazine (at Tufts University in 2007). Other examples abound. Worryingly, such broad codes and heavy-handed enforcement are teaching a generation of students that it may be safer to keep their mouths shut when important or controversial issues arise. Such illiberal lessons on how to live in a free society are poison to freewheeling debate and thought experimentation and, therefore, to the innovative thinking that both higher education and our democracy need.

In April, the Office of Civil Rights told colleges to use “the lowest possible standard of evidence” in sexual harassment and assault cases, Lukianoff writes. “The letter makes no mention of the First Amendment or free speech.”

In the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court defined harassment as discriminatory conduct, directed at an individual, that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that “victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” FIRE and other groups want OCR to adopt the Davis definition of harassment.