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Edgewood College Hate Speech Policy to Change


BY ON THE EDGE STAFF | PHOTO BY ALEX THOMAS

This summer Edgewood College will clarify its policy regarding hate speech, including posts on students’ personal social media accounts, Edgewood College President Scott Flanagan confirmed Wednesday (April 12).

“We are convening right now a group to take a look at free expression,” said Flanagan. “We are not the only campus that is having conversations like this. . . . I expect there will be a group convening in the next few weeks that will have some suggestions to me by about mid-summer.”

Flanagan said there may not be a perfect answer. “But the clearer we can get, the better off we are going to be.”

Over the college’s 2017 spring break, an anonymous student reported that a captioned social media photo contained a racial slur. An investigation resulted, and the student who posted the caption faces consequences as severe as expulsion.

Edgewood College Dean of Students Tony Chambers had said that Edgewood College students could not post hate speech while on Edgewood sponsored trips. “. . . Free speech does not mean you can say anything anywhere,” said Chambers.

The policy in The Edgewood College Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook is not transparent, and questions have arisen since Chambers declined to offer most details about the incident, the investigation, and the investigation process.

Flanagan said that the details should not be shared so that the students’ identity is protected.

“I’m not sure if I want the three people to have their names known publicly,” said Flanagan. “I know there’s a lot of wiggle room within the policy, but there’s a policy that exists for allegations of student conduct and that’s the one that gets followed.”

“We want to not only protect the privacies of the students, but also to made sure that the folks that are engaged in the (investigative) process can do their job without being either lobbied during the process or facing public repercussions afterward.”

Flanagan said much of the policy was rewritten last summer in an attempt to make it more clear. “In the last month, I reminded Tony (Chambers) to revisit what has worked and what hasn’t. Based on what is going on, it looks like there is more work that we can do.”

Flanagan said he realizes there is more work to be done because students still find the policy unclear. “The fact that there are some things that are not clear to you would suggest to me that we can still do some work to make it more clear. That’s a conversation that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, we’ve made some improvements, and we can learn more going forward.”

Flanagan said that he feels the policies outlined in the Student Handbook take First Amendment rights into consideration.

Flanagan said that student athletes are held more accountable than others because they are representing Edgewood College. “Student athletes have a disciplinary process within the department and within each team, some formal and some more informal. That does not replace the judicial policies that Edgewood has in place.”

Flanagan said private colleges have the ability to dictate how speech is handled around campus, but Flanagan said he believes that Edgewood College has been less restrictive. “I would be inclined to err on the side of greater latitude for expression. The trade-off is that there are things that people might find objectionable or hurtful.”

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