Ole Miss won't rule out microaggression-related suspensions

The University of Mississippi (UM) has declined to clarify if students can be suspended or expelled for committing a single microaggression, in light of reports suggesting just that.

On January 5, Inside Higher Education reporter Jeremy Bauer-Wolf reported that “At the University of Mississippi, it’s possible that a single offensive remark could land a student in trouble,” but did not specify what type of punishment could result.

After some media outlets later suggested the policy could result in suspension or expulsion, Campus Reform reached out to UM for clarification, asking if a student could be suspended or expelled after making a single offensive remark.

[RELATED: University shuts down bias reporting system after complaint]

School spokesperson Lisa G. Stone responded with a statement from Perry Sansing, the school’s interim general counsel, who argued that the policy is consistent with First Amendment protections.

“The policy allows UM to take action when one person harasses another and to cure a hostile environment before the harassment causes significant harm,” the statement said, concluding by noting that “the policy does not require that a first offense be punished.”

Campus Reform followed up with UM by pointing out that the statement failed specify whether the school could punish a student for an offensive comment under this policy, but received no clarification.

[RELATED: New policy would make it easier for UMD to punish students]

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has received no reports of UM suspending or expelling students for a single offensive remark, FIRE Vice President of Policy Research Samantha Harris told Campus Reform.

Harris also noted that the school’s harassment policy itself appears to be consistent with the First Amendment and how the Supreme Court has defined misconduct.

However, she did note that there was a “tension” between the school’s otherwise acceptable harassment policy and the statements made by outgoing general counsel Lee Tyner, whose comments inspired the initial article by Inside Higher Ed.

“Some people would say you can’t punish a one-off racial slur because it’s not pervasive,” Tyner told Inside Higher Ed, adding that his job was to “stop them from doing it again and again before it becomes pervasive.”

[RELATED: Free speech, inclusivity are ‘conflicting interests’]

Harris explained that there is a “tension between the policy itself and this comment by the outgoing general counsel,” explaining that Tyner’s comment “is inconsistent with the plain language of the policy because generally speaking, a one-off remark is not going to rise to the level of something so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies the victim access.”

Harris also noted that the school currently has a Green Light rating from FIRE, indicating that the school’s speech policies are generally consistent with the First Amendment.

Campus Reform reached out again to UM to note this inconsistency, but once again received no response.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen