A student at Georgia Southern University has triggered a controversy that has led to her being fired from her job and charges that she has engaged in hate speech after criticizing protesters at the University of Missouri. Emily Faz, a senior, was critical of social media postings where Missouri protesters objected that the terrorist attacks in Paris were taken too much media attention away from their story.
Various media sites reported how Missouri protesters were posting angry messages about the fact that attention had shifted to Paris following the massacre. Some of the messages and tweets included:
“Racist white people kill me, you want everyone to have sympathy for YOUR tragedy, but you have none for ours,” one user tweeted, adding “#Mizzou.”
“Disgusted @ white conservative Americans using Paris as a ‘see black people, your woes here w/ us could be more extreme,’ but not surprised.”
Many protesters, including Black Lives Matter national leaders, said the racial injustice at college campuses and the attacks in Paris were both acts of terrorism.
“Interesting how the news reports are covering the Paris terrorist attacks but said nothing abut the terrorist attack at #Mizzou.”
“Paris attacks were terrorism. black students getting death threats on their college campuses (A SUPPOSED SAFE SPACE!!) is also TERRORISM.”
Many people was shocked by the sentiments expressed in such messages, including Faz who went to social media to complain. She shared a published story (here) and lashed out at the protesters:
“I swear if I see this B.S. at Southern I will make you regret even knowing what a movement or a hashtag is, and you’ll walk away with your tail tucked. The whole black lives matter movement is misguided and out of hand. Maybe no one likes or takes y’all seriously because no one can see past your egotistical [expletive]. Some people might just look past it, but fair warning I am not one. All lives matter, that has always been the case, and you part of the problem if you think other wise [sic].”
Various students at GSU accused Faz of “hate speech” and threatening violence. I do not take the tweet in that sense. The statement “you’ll walk away with your tail tucked” seems rather obvious hyperbole. Her comments appear largely directed at those students (who clearly do not reflect the views of all Black Lives Matter protesters) who objected to the coverage of the massacres. Her language is chosen poorly to be sure in issuing a “fair warning” but her added comments that “all lives matter” take away from the notion of an actual threat of violence.
A campaign ensured targeting Faz, including posting her telephone number and her work location. One user stated “We gotta find this Emil Faz.” Others called for her to be expelled.
The campaign worked after the number of the manager for Wild Wings Cafe was posted. The restaurant prompted fired Faz even though she had made no reference to the restaurant in her tweet.
The GSU NAACP in response staged a “Black Out, Walk Out” on Tuesday and issued demands to the school, including hiring more black professors and expanding the African Studies program.
In the meantime, Jean Bartels, GSU’s interim president, is quoted as saying that some of the speech circulating over the past 24 hours (including the original post) “has resulted in a call for disciplinary action against the speaker.” She added “will not tolerate behavior that is in violation with our Student Code of Conduct.”
It is not clear what discipline had been imposed on Faz and the basis for the university in meting out such punishment. The story is part of a trend that civil libertarians see in the erosion of free speech on campuses.
As I discussed yesterday, there is a growing concern over a double standard in addressing controversial statements made on campus or on social media. We recently discussed the case of Saida Grundy, an incoming assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Boston University who released a series of tweets denounced by many as racist and sexist, including calling white males the main problem on college campuses and admitting how she tries not to buy anything from white people. While many called for Grundy to be fired, some of us defended her racist and sexist comments as an exercise of free speech done outside of her teaching responsibilities. However at the time, I noted “released a series of tweets denounced by many as racist and sexist. “White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges.” Now we have such a case and it does appear to confirm some of our concerns that the same standard is not applied to those with opposing views. Duke University professor Jerry Hough has faced called for termination as racist. Meanwhile a Memphis professor, Zandria Robinson, triggered the same debate after denouncing whites and insisting that “whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror.” However, in Robinson’s case, she was rehired by Rhodes College, which seemed to view her controversial comments as a positive element supporting her appointment.
The point is not to support any of these comments but to raise again how universities respond to controversial statements from students and faculty. There appears to be no consistent or coherent standard being applied in such cases. Moreover, the free speech implications are increasingly dismissed in this debate.
What do you think?