A small liberal arts school in Colorado has kicked out two of its students for anonymously penning offensive social media posts and sharing a screenshot from an episode of South Park.
Thaddeus Pryor, a junior at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, learned on November 20 that he had received a 21-month suspension for something he posted two weeks earlier on Yik Yak, a social media application which allows users to broadcast a message to others located within a given range.
Responding to someone in the area who posted “#blackwomenmatter,” Mr. Pryor said: “They matter, they’re just not hot.” The message was penned anonymously, but the student admitted his role when approached by campus officials who had been tipped-off.
“It could be considered as mean,” the student told The Colorado Springs Gazette last week. “But I did not mean it as hateful or violent or anything of that sort.”
Mr. Pryor can stay enrolled with roughly 2,000 other students at Colorado College, but can’t set foot on campus or earn credit elsewhere until 2017; the same can’t be said for his housemate, Lou Henriques, however, who was informed by the school on Nov. 20 that he was being expelled permanently for his Yik Yak posts, including one in which he shared a screenshot from an 8-year-old episode of South Park in which a character incorrectly answers a “People Who Annoy You” puzzle on Wheel of Fortune with the N-word rather than “NAGGERS.”
Henriques had also posted the words “RACE WAR” on Yik Yak, the private school’s Catalyst newspaper reported, which he said were in reference to another episode of the animated series.
“I’m sorry that people were offended by them,” he told the Catalyst. “I said them merely as jokes. I understand that they were offensive.”
Indeed, the college largely failed to see the humor and, in addition to taking action against the students, also hosted a school-wide forum on racism directly as a result of the Yik Yak scandal.
Both students were quick to appeal the disciplinary actions, and while Mr. Pryor is still awaiting a decision, Mr. Henriques has agreed to withdraw from the college rather than be formally expelled, the Catalyst reported.
“I don’t think the student body condones or should condone what I said, and I don’t expect them to,” Mr. Henriques told the paper. “I also don’t think many students condone the expulsion. The school took a very hard line and was probably reacting to the racism going on at colleges throughout the country.”
Mr. Pryor, meanwhile, has since garnered the support of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE — a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that fights for freedom of speech — as he attempts to be readmitted on campus.
“Colorado College’s disciplinary action toward Pryor — a 21 month suspension — for posting what was intended to be a joke on social media completely contradicts the school’s promises of freedom of speech,” FIRE Senior Program Officer Ari Cohn said in a statement. “The college’s punitive and heavy-handed overreaction to Pryor’s social media post will have a chilling effect on campus discourse.”
College officials cannot legally discuss the issue due to privacy laws, the Catalyst reported, and Mr. Pryor told the Gazette that a ruling on his appeal is expected later this year.