The ACLU of Oklahoma issued a statement yesterday on the expulsion of the two students involved in the racist chant on the bus.
The following is attributable to Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director:
While the facts continue to unfold regarding the recent expulsions and continued investigations, we are closely monitoring the situation and urge the University to keep its attention focused on the larger issues of racism on the University of Oklahoma campus.
Universities are one of the primary battlegrounds for learning about free speech and understanding how to combat bigotry. The best antidote to hateful speech is the exercise of peaceful speech in return. We have seen remarkable examples of students, faculty, administrators, and Oklahomans from all over the state join together in rallies, prayer vigils, and online forums to express their disgust at the racist chant and to call for a meaningful conversation about race and prejudice in all areas of campus life. We applaud their many voices and encourage them to continue the necessary and promising conversation about fighting prejudice and racism.
That looks like a muffled way of hinting that more speech would have been better than expulsion, but it doesn’t spell it out.
The following is attributable to Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director:
It is critical that any disciplinary actions by the University of Oklahoma are not viewed as magic bullets to cure the deeply embedded problems of racism and bigotry that this scandal has brought to light. Punishment alone does not change the hearts and minds of those we punish, or others like them. This is a teaching moment that requires a consistent commitment to honest and open dialogue that does not stop at simply punishing those who spew hate and prejudice on video, but rather, combats the core of that hate and prejudice. The University of Oklahoma has an opportunity to engage in just such a dialogue, and we need to ensure that we don’t miss that opportunity in the rush to punish racist speech.
It’s even less clear what that’s meant to be.
But that was yesterday; today they put out a statement that does say the expulsion probably wouldn’t stand up in court.
Last night’s town hall meeting was a powerful reminder that this moment is much larger than one video or one chant, it is about the need to have a conversation addressing prejudice and racism on the University of Oklahoma campus. Our country and our state have a long history of injustice and even violence toward communities of color. We need plans for long-term change and renewed commitments to diversity in order to right many wrongs. Now is a time for reflection and action, not just quick fixes. At their best, universities are places where students from different backgrounds and experiences come together and learn. To preserve that idea, the University of Oklahoma has an obligation to protect all of its students from a hostile learning environment that impedes their educational opportunities.
As a state-run institution of higher education, the University of Oklahoma must also respect First Amendment principles that are central to the mission of every university. Any sanction imposed on students for their speech must therefore be consistent with the First Amendment and not merely a punishment for vile and reprehensible speech; courts have consistently and rightly ruled as such. Absent information that is not at our disposal, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which a court would side with the university on this matter. We are closely monitoring the situation and will appropriately respond to new details as they emerge. In the meantime, we stand in solid support of the brave and thoughtful students whose public dialogue on race and the rights of all minority students in response to the incident have embodied the spirit of the First Amendment.
I think I probably disagree with the courts then.