Wake Forest Grapples With Free Speech Controversy Over Instagram Posting

There is a controversy brewing over free speech at Wake Forest University where an Instagram post has triggered an investigation. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that the “racist” posting  encouraged students to vote for a candidate for student body president. It read: “He wants to build a wall between Wake and Winston-Salem State and he’ll make them pay for it.” While the university’s president Nathan Hatch described it as a possible “parody”, an investigation was still launched. That has raised objections from students who complain of a chilling effect on speech under such rules.

The student candidate had nothing to do with the posting.

The question is where the line is drawn today on such issues of free speech and parody. The university posts the following definition:

“Verbal abuse is the use of obscene, profane, or derogatory language that abuses or defames another person. Harassment is any action, verbal or nonverbal, that annoys or disturbs another person or that causes another person to be reasonably apprehensive or endangers the health or safety of another person.”

We have previously discussed these speech codes and how ambiguous terminology chills speech. To include anything that “annoys or disturbs another person” is quite sweeping. The limitation imposed by the “reasonably” qualifier does little to reinforce free speech norms.

Hatch wrote that The university is “gathering details about this incident” through a team investigation led by Dean of Students Adam Goldstein.

The Wake Forest Anti-Racism Coalition, however, criticized Hatch for even raising the issue of parody as insisted that it was a “racist dog whistle deployed to embolden white supremacy. The author of the post knew what they were doing. Call racism by its name.”

It could also be parody. The wall language is now a common part of our lexicon and discourse, including parodies meant as critical of President Trump. The question is whether it warrants this level of investigation. Obviously, my tendency in such disputes is to err on the side of free speech. Yet, from the perspective of the university, various students raised a formal complaint over experiencing intimidating or language. The university accordingly launched an investigation. Part of the concern, however, is that the rule itself imposes sanctions on language for how it is received as opposed to how it is intended. For civil libertarians, free speech requires bright lines to avoid chilling effects from speech codes. Yet, many academics believe that a safe space for learning requires protection from intimidating speech — whether intended or unintended.

What do you think?

44 thoughts on “Wake Forest Grapples With Free Speech Controversy Over Instagram Posting”

  1. Of course it was a parody! Comics have been using these lines for over 2 years now.

    Universities – turn out better education and stop censoring. Graduate students able to reason critically, and with marketable degrees. Post results of how much people can expect to make with each degree they offer, using real world statistics.

    You know, earn your keep.

  2. You seem to ignore the possibility that the response of the Wake Forest Anti-Racism Coalition (“The author of the post knew what they were doing. Call racism by its name”) is not, itself, a parody.

  3. What do you think?

    How should a person respond to vile and contemptible speech?

    You can ignore it, you can counter it with your own rejoinder or you can use your own vile and contemptible speech.

    Running in circles – screaming and shouting – flailing your arms all about while looking for an authority figure to censor speech you find disagreeable is not a valid solution.

    Those in positions of responsibility at university (eg Dean of Students Adam Goldstein) need to remember there are two parties (or more) in question whose speech should be held in equal regard. The speech in question should then be weighed and measured in the public square and allowed to stand or fall on its own merit.

    Censors be damned!

    If a person finds the speech to be offensive they can move along or change the station.

    Mayhap Wake Forest University can offer a course on remedial nursery rhymes for all students and facility.

    They can open their lessons with this lovely:

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me.
    ~ Anne Jane Cupples


  4. The university admin cadre should all be arrested and after a fair trial trundled off to reeducation facilities in the desert. Pickaxes and shovels on the house, costs of cots and thin soup will be charged against wages booked for digging ditches

    1. Another example of over educated and under intelligent people embarrassing themselves and absolute gutless abdication of leadership or the semblance of adulthood by the school administration.

      Words have meaning- it is the basis of communication.
      Communication cannot take place if the judges of meaning are the eternally offended and their kissing-cousins who are perpetually searching for something they can twist and distort into something they find offensive regardless of the actual words spoken or written or the intent behind them.

      i would like to take one of these all knowing offense seeking intent reading geniuses to Vegas because if they could actually actually know what speakers or writers intended they would be unstoppable at the poker tables

      Sadly they would make the same contribution to my gambling success as they do to intelligent discussion. Nothing.

  5. The PC police are always there to stop any thought, even humerous one’s, if the thought doesn’t fit into their narrow view of the world.

  6. Harassment is any action, verbal or nonverbal, that annoys or disturbs another person or that causes another person to be reasonably apprehensive or endangers the health or safety of another person.

    Ironically, the school administrators seem to be violating their own written policy.

  7. People need to stop looking for something to be insulted by. American will have no sense of humor if we don’t.

  8. Nowadays I have to search for an explanation as to why something is possibly offensive to somebody. It used to be that if something really were offensive then I could see it right away. Does this say something about me i.e. early Alzheimers’ etc? Something about PC culture on steroids? Or both?

  9. An “investigation”. Oh no, say it ain’t true! Is that all we know? What does that mean? Apparently the end of western civilization by these comments. Of course they’ll do one and what they do after is what matters. Given the tendency of our rightie posters to drag other blacks into their venting, we can assume that if it was about a black candidate joking about mau-mauing the Young Republican club – or whatever they call themselves – the outrage would be about the sane, but pro investigation.

    For me, wgaf? I’ll wait for the next step to decide if I should.

    1. You really shouldn’t be sloshed at this hour of the morning.

    2. “An “investigation”. Oh no, say it ain’t true! Is that all we know? What does that mean? Apparently the end of western civilization by these comments. Of course they’ll do one and what they do after is what matters.”
      Ah, the bleating of the willfully obtuse. It would take a decided lack of rationality not to understand that a public “investigation” by this private university’s PC police against a powerless (but funny) student would have have a chilling effect on the rest of the constitutionally unprotected students — mostly the unfavored, financially supporting straight, white male population. But with Anon it’s sort of expected. Consider my dunderheaded and cowardly friend, why was it made public in the first place?

      And why the investigation anyhows? Take one look at the post and let your mind work to decide if it’s serious. Take your time. You might as well investigate why the sun comes up every morning around 6ish.

      1. In the real world large institutions do investigations so they have time to figure out what to do about embarrassing occurrences in their domain and also to see where the chips are falling and lastly hoping it will go away.

        Again, we all know if the races were flipped on this the righties here, who used the hint of uppity blacks contained in it to drag other blacks they don’t like into the discussion, would be equally outraged but in favor of an inquisition, not an investigation.

        You guys are almost as transparent as Trump.

        1. And you’re a dumb as a rock. Investigations are only made public for political and/or nefarious purposes. Here it’s both.

  10. One look at that poster tells you what it was. That feckless President Hatch needs a committee to tell him tells you all you need to know about him and his palpable fear of the anti-white sentiments of some minority members and their guilt-ridden enablers on campus. This kid should be able to say anything he damn well pleases on that campus including the hyphenated taboo words. That he can’t raises questions about why we support institutions of higher tyranny. Put Wake on that class of schools who cower to the uneducated, PC mob.

    1. The smart money says the enablers aren’t ‘guilt-ridden’ in the least. There are those who get paid to be nuisances and those who are quite exhibitionistic and self-aggrandizing.

  11. Again, this is all about status. Some wag jabbed a mascot group of the Anointed. Both the mascots and the patrons of the mascots fancy the peasant in question must be punished for such disrespect.

    If we had serious pedagogues employed in the student affairs apparat of higher education, they’d tell the complainers that they aren’t entitled to the respect of random individuals and, like everyone else, are just going to have thicker hides. Of course, we don’t have serious pedagogues. We have the Anointed. (Whose object is stoking moral pretension among white liberals and pretension mixed with chauvinism among blacks).

  12. I just read that former MSNBC tv host/race-baiter Melissa Harris-Perry is on the Wake Forest faculty. ‘Nuff said.

    Even though Melissa’s mother is white, she has said that she would rather identify as black, like dad. What a shocker.

    1. They gave an absurd sinecure to Marguerite Jackson (aka Maya Angelou) some 30 years ago. She had no office on campus and taught one course per year. Enrollment was by invitation only. The salary they paid her could have employed four real professors. There was an article about it in National Review in 1993.

      1. A dear family friend, Dr. James Scales, became their president when it was still Wake Forest College. He was pres. of my Univ in Okla. when Wake Forest called him in 1966. I babysat his girls for spending $ in college. He was a wonderful forward thinking Baptist and took that spirit with him to WF. He is deceased now, but would be disgusted to hear what is happening….and would grieve deeply over it!

      2. I read that article. I think her “office” was a janitor’s closet. Never thought much of her poetry. But she could dress up with the best of them. If you can’t be talented, at least be controversial and gaudy.

        1. mespo……Marcus Garvey…one of my favorites. If you wanted controversial and gaudy, he was your man.
          But a touch cuckoo??

    2. Melissa Harris – [insert this year’s husband] was once a working political scientist who published scholarly articles (in minor journals) on public opinion formation in black populations. Arguably a good fit for a rank-and-file teaching institution. In New Jersey, that would be (say) Wm. Paterson State or Rider. Instead, she was recruited by Princeton, where she was decidedly out of place. (She was also, ca. 2006, someone of quite conventional views, a good fit for a Bill Moyers interview).

  13. The university president thought it was a “possible parody”???? Possible?? It was an obvious parody……..funny and cleverly done!
    Is Wake Forest still a Baptist school? Baptists love to laugh and ususally hate anything PC.
    Apparently humor is one of the first things to go with the Toddler Taliban.
    Honestly! A society that can’t laugh at itself is doomed.

    1. The President needs to watch one week straight of Monty Python, Eddie Izzard, Tim Allen, Faulty Towers, Dennis Miller, Joe Foxworthy, Ron White, Larry the Cable Guy, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, and all of Mel Brooks’ movies until he has a grasp on a sense of humor, and has become tolerant of irreverent humor. It is the antithesis of PC.

      Finally. A study guide that’s fun in today’s Social Justice world.

    1. No, but I used to live near a German-American bakery in Cincinnati and their bundt cakes and pasteries were utterly delicious. 🎂🍰🧁🥧

      1. During the 1930’s and up until WWII, we had a bunch of groups in some states in America called the German American Bund. They were made up of Germans, mostly citizens of the U.S. who lived here, who were of the Nazi persuasion. They Heil Hitlered and all sorts of things. It was free speech and freedom of association until the war started. The next generation and then the next, are not so radical Nazi and maybe not right wing at all. But now we have these people who want to quell speech because it might stir up controversy. They call themselves good liberals and all that kind of description. They want to control. Heil Hillary!

  14. Correct speech would have been: Mister Pence: Build Up That Fence. And keep the two schools apart. Not Apartheight. Not a parting in the road. A fence to keep out illegal aliens. Each school has been getting them. The German American Bund wants in.

    1. Yes,…. my dogs food pans are metal & they hear them when rattled.

      The Commie/Nazi Libtards & their Rino buddies are now starting to hearing their dog bowls rattled as word is coming out Prez Trump is cutting of Govt /Grants/ Contracts to schools & corporation violating Freespeech, Racketeering & Tortuous Interference.

      Ooh, so sorry, Google/Ytube/Apple, you might should put something on those black eyes. lol

      1. Oky1……Trump is the man for the job. That’s why he’ll be re-elected.

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