Lexington, Kentucky is a town dominated by its love for the University of Kentucky wildcats, a school tucked away amongst rolling hills filled with thoroughbred horses. But it’s about to be known for more than their amazing basketball program and — well, their inadequate — football program.
They’re about to be known for their censorship.
Actually, it’s worse than censorship, the university actually — no hyperbole — has literal “speech police.” In 2016, they created what they called a “Bias Incident Response Team,” which monitors “activity that intimidates, demeans, mocks, degrades, marginalizes, or threatens individuals or groups.” But Fox News reports on how wrong that could go, and fast:
… the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, said the program encourages students to “anonymously report offensive speech to literal speech police” on campus. The group, who gave the university a speech code award, said this type of anonymous student reporting creates a “if you hear something, say something” anti-bias campaign with serious implications for protecting the First Amendment on campus.
“It is understandable that universities want to stay attuned to the campus climate in order to create an environment that is as welcoming as possible to people of all backgrounds — but there are surely ways to do this short of creating a mini-surveillance state on campus,” wrote Samantha Harris, vice president of policy research at FIRE.
Predictably, UK spokesman Jay Blanton thinks FIRE is overreacting. “There is no penalty for exercising your free speech rights on our campus,” Blaton said. “Except for reasonable restrictions necessary for university operations, our entire campus is open to free speech. But we also will not hesitate in speaking out in opposition when someone uses speech or words to hurt or harm, to demean or denigrate. And we will not hesitate to provide support to those who feel targeted by hurtful speech.”
Wow. That was forceful. His words almost hurt me. You know, they could’ve. After all, who’s to say his words didn’t affect me in this way? I am the ultimate decider on issues that relate to my emotional state, right?
I’m being facetious to prove how vague and ambiguous this policy is, how easy it would be to take advantage of…. how easily it could be used to actually hurt, harm, and denigrate students who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights.
Come on, Kentucky. You’re better than this.
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