Did Ole Miss prof suggest criminal punishment for speech 'bias'?

An Ole Miss professor recently said that the school would benefit from its Bias Incident Response Team enacting stricter punishments.

The professor later walked back the statement, saying students should only be charged if they have violated state or federal hate crimes.

University of Mississippi professor Kirk Johnson recently suggested during an interview on speech “bias” that if students “faced the possibility of being suspended from school or being arrested” then they would “police themselves more vigorously.” 

The statement comes just weeks after the University of Michigan settled a free speech lawsuit that called into question the constitutionality of its Bias Response Team, as Campus Reform reported at the time. Free speech nonprofit Speech First argued in that case that UMich’s definition of “bullying” and “harassment” were too vague, potentially leading students to self-censor. 

Nicole Neily, president of Speech First, issued a statement following the settlement putting colleges “on notice.” 

However, as Neily noted, there are still bias response teams at as many as 200 colleges and universities across the country, including Ole Miss.

The statement also comes just weeks after two University of Connecticut students were arrested for allegedly using “ridiculing” speech. 

Although he later walked back the statement, Johnson initially told The College Fix that Ole Miss would benefit from Bias Incident Response Team that enforces harsher punishments, including expulsion or criminal charges. The outlet quoted Johnson as saying that if students “faced the possibility of being suspended from school or being arrested under federal or state hate-crime statutes, I suspect they would police themselves more vigorously.” 

[RELATED: Ivy League prof paints ‘microaggressions’ as ‘toxic rain’ in lecture]

According to Ole Miss Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement Katrina Caldwell, the current bias response “doesn’t punish.”

“I think raising awareness gives us an opportunity to address it,” Caldwell said of bias incident reports.

The University of Mississippi’s website says that “a bias” incident would include “a behavior or act that targets an individual or group based on perceived or actual characteristics such as, but not limited to, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability or age.”

The BIRT website also includes an explanation of the differences of free speech and bias speech, stating that, “Bias Speech is any speech directed at a person because of their protected status, e.g. race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender expression, veteran or ability status that displays some level of prejudice or chauvinism.”

[RELATED: Denver school targets faculty, staff with microaggression trainings]

Johnson recently sent a letter to members of the Critical Race Studies Group in regard to a more aggressive response to bias stating, “For example, I’ve long felt that we need to be proactive to prevent student microaggressions instead of continuing to react to them after the fact.”

Johnson helped co-write a reporton microaggressions along with Willa M.Johnson, James Thomas, and John Green, classifying phrases such as “People should pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and “Where are you from?” when directed at students of certain ethnicities as “microinvalidations.” 

Campus Reform has previously reported on Thomas for stating that Republican senators “don’t deserve your civility” and for comparing teen supporters of President Donald Trump with “Hitlerjugend.”

[RELATED: Student gov warns peers about ‘very prevalent’ ‘microaggressions’ like mispronouncing names]

Campus Reform reached out to K. Johnson, Thomas, W. Johnson, Green, and Caldwell to which K.Johnson and Thomas responded with an email including a document of the co-authored research paper detailing microaggressions on campus. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Jess_Custodio