School crusades against offensive signs at off-campus houses

Anthony Gockowski
Investigative Reporter

  • Administrators at Colorado State University recently pressured students into removing signs that the school found offensive from their off-campus residence.
  • The so-called "Dean's Team" is engaged in an ongoing crusade against the practice of hanging "problematic signs" on private property, urging property owners to act because CSU isn't allowed to interfere with free speech.
  • A banner that was displayed at an off-campus residence near Colorado State University.

    A group of Colorado State University students were pressured into removing signs from their off-campus residence that were deemed offensive by school administrators.

    According to The Daily Collegian, CSU Dean of Students Jody Donovan simply “requested” that the signs be removed because of their apparent offensive and sexist content—one sign advertised that “Mom’s Drink 4 Free” and another said, “Thank you 4 your sons and daddies.”

    "What they were saying is not important at all. But, they have a right to say it, and that is important."   

    The signs, notably, were hung up on an August 16 move-in day from an off-campus residence, though the school has a history of patrolling local housing for offensive signage.

    In fact, The Collegian notes that Donovan boasts what she refers to as the “Dean’s Team,” a group of CSU officials tasked with addressing offensive or problematic signs, who have spoken with almost 60 off-campus property owners over the past year alone, and recently sent a letter warning them that offensive signs have been displayed in previous years.

    “While the signs are certainly within the boundaries of free speech and are on private property, for parents and family members moving their students into an unfamiliar community, these signs signal that Fort Collins is not a safe or welcoming community,” she wrote. “These signs can give the wrong impression and may indicate that some (sic) that sexual assault and harassment are accepted behaviors in our community, on and off campus.”

    [RELATED: MAP: Growing number of states consider free-speech bills]

    While Donovan insists, during the latest incident, that she “didn’t force them” to take down the signs, but merely “asked if they would,” student Juan Caro, an affiliate of those living in the off-campus house, sees things differently.

    “The police, the dean, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and now Conflict Resolution (the school’s kangaroo court) are all involved with the removal of the sign. That does not sound like an ask to me,” Caro asserted. His account is corroborated by The Collegian’s report, which states that the students ultimately removed the signs after a Fort Collins police officer arrived.

    Although Campus Reform attempted to contact students living in the house, two of whom are facing a Friday disciplinary hearing related to the August 16 incident, all wished to remain anonymous.

    “The school will use its conflict resolution team to try to stifle free speech or intimidate students,” Caro, a prominent free-speech activist on campus, said of Friday’s hearing. “They cannot directly charge the students for having the sign but they can try to charge them with ‘violating a city ordinance’ by having an eight-person gathering on private property.”

    [RELATED: STUDY: Most tops schools deny ‘basic elements’ of due process]

    At this point, Caro does not believe the students will consider legal action against the school, though he wagered that “if any pro-bono organizations like [the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] or [the Alliance Defending Freedom] steps up, then they will highly consider fighting for their student rights on and off campus,” referring to two prominent free speech advocacy organizations.

    “[Donovan] should not be going out of her way onto private property to influence the decisions of private citizens,” he continued. “What they were saying is not important at all. But, they have a right to say it, and that is important.”

    Campus Reform reached out to Donovan for comment on the matter, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski



    Anthony Gockowski

    Anthony Gockowski

    Investigative Reporter

    Anthony Gockowski is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. He has previously worked for The Daily Caller, Intercollegiate Review, and The Catholic Spirit.

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