First Amendment experts criticize university's vague 'hate speech' policy

Davenport University's Student Conduct Code bans 'hate speech' during on-campus protests.

The document does not define what constitutes as hate speech.

Davenport University, a private institution in Michigan, categorizes “hate speech” as “harassment” in its Student Conduct Code.

However, the document does not define what constitutes hate speech. 

The Student Conduct Code outlines the school’s policies for student protests while stating that demonstrations “may not perpetuate hate speech, intimidation, harassment, discrimination, or create an unsafe environment for those participating or not participating in the demonstration or protest.” 

Cherise Trump, executive director of Speech First, told Campus Reform that “Davenport’s desire to censor students becomes more apparent when you see the subjective terms they use to describe restricted speech such as speech that causes ‘discomfort,’ or statements that are considered ‘aggressive,’ or ‘intimidating.’” 

[RELATED: WATCH: Defending students’ free speech rights in the COVID era]

Campus Reform spoke with Davenport University student David Luczyk about the university’s policy.

“I think that it is a very ‘comforting’ liberal-leaning decision that was made and herds a majority of people to just ‘go along’ with it without realizing what it actually means,” Luczyk said. 

Likewise, Trump stated that “Davenport pays lip service to students’ right to free speech.” 

 The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave Davenport University a “red light” speech code rating last month. A “red light” is the nonprofit organization’s worst rating for freedom of speech on campus. 

[RELATED: UW law school wants to tell students what to say on social media]

”Banning offensive and hateful speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination, as these terms are entirely subjective — what one person finds to be offensive or hateful may not be so to another,” FIRE Director of Policy Reform Laura Beltz wrote on the organization’s website.

“Since they say they support students’ free speech, we recommend that they revise their free speech policies so it can be first amendment standard and FIRE is willing to work with Davenport to do these revisions”,  Beltz told Campus Reform.

Campus Reform features FIRE’s ratings in its Campus Profile series.

Campus Reform reached out to Davenport University for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.