Students accuse Gettysburg College of suppressing conservative views

A conservative student group is accusing Gettysburg College of censorship after an administrator publicly sided with student vandals who ripped down the group’s pro-life flyers.

Alissa Lopez, vice-chair of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter, told The New Guard that the group saw the posters—which contrasted the “#BlackLivesMatter” slogan with African-American abortion statistics—“as an opportunity to talk about abortion and how it affects the African American community” following a town hall meeting on racism that members felt was skewed toward liberal perspectives.

School policy imposes few restrictions on the display of written materials by students and student organizations, allowing flyers to be placed on bulletin boards in most academic and administrative buildings without prior approval, though Jared McCully, a Gettysburg student and a member of the school’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter, told Campus Reform that the students were told to remove some of the flyers by school officials.

Chief Diversity Officer Jeanne Arnold confirmed that the administration had asked YAF to remove one of the posters due to concerns about its content, saying the students were encouraged "to reframe the content of the poster to encourage productive dialogue," but said the rest of the designs were approved.

Even so, YAF members discovered the very next morning that their flyers had been torn down overnight, and while most had already vanished, they were able to photograph at least one of their classmates in the act, allowing them to report the incident to administrators.

[RELATED: Protesters threaten conservative student group over pro-life flyers]

Rather than supporting the group, though, or even merely denouncing the perpetrators for suppressing legitimate speech, Arnold responded to the complaints with a mass email in which she not only chastised YAF for posting the flyers in the first place, but also pledged to work toward preventing similar instances of “bias” going forward. 

“Over the course of the academic year, a series of posters have been displayed causing many students to feel marginalized and misrepresented by negative stereotypes,” the email begins. “I write to you today because posters that were hung last week in numerous locations on campus singled out African-American women in an effort to promote pro-life positions,” she explained, adding that “these posters also made misleading use of ‘Black Lives Matter,’” and “have perpetuated a chilly climate for some of our students, faculty, and staff.”

Claiming that “students directly and indirectly affected by these posters have expressed frustration and anger,” Arnold goes on to declare that “that type of climate is not in line with the environment our community seeks to uphold,” and that she “will no longer let controversial, shallow, sensationalist, intellectually vacuous messages monopolize the public dialogue.”

Referring to the town hall that inspired YAF to post the flyers, Arnold notes that the college has already begun taking steps to “create a more inclusive environment,” but promises that she will be pursuing additional initiatives in direct response to the pro-life messages.

First, she vows to “establish a bias response team this semester focused on proactive education,” at which point “the Student Life Committee will review policies related to on-campus postings and bias” with consultation from both the bias response team and the student body.

Gettysburg College already has a policy covering bias-related conduct, along with a procedure for students to report bias incidents online, but reserves considerable leeway for administrators to determine whether a given incident constitutes “inappropriate” bias behavior.

“An Inappropriate bias behavior is defined as an act (speech, written or verbal, or conduct) targeted at a person or group creating what the College deems an insensitive or unwelcoming environment on the basis of actual or perceived identity/expression, national origin, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability status,” the policy explains, elaborating that “inappropriate bias behaviors may consist of name calling, epithets, slurs, or degrading language, directed toward the targeted person or group.”

Arnold told Campus Reform that her proposed bias response team would expand upon the existing system, focusing its efforts on "proactive education about the policy, form, and definitions of bias."

She also explained that the Student Life Committee's policy review would specifically seek to "evaluate the policies relating to posting of any information on campus" as well as "revisit the definitions of bias incidents and see how these recent events should be interpreted in light of current policies," but declined to endorse any particular outcomes.

Beyond Arnold's email addressing the pro-life flyer controversy, McCully said he believes a subsequent incident demonstrates more widespread hostility toward conservative views at the college, claiming administrators have allowed a banner protesting the YAF flyers to remain in place despite the fact that nobody has claimed responsibility for it, as required by school policy.

The banner asks “Where does free speech end & oppression begin?” a sentiment McCully claimed is intended “in support of recent efforts by various student groups to create a safe space on campus,” though he noted that none of the three Student Life employees he spoke with could tell him which group had hung the banner.

“Most observers do not mind YAF's provocative messages from being censored on campus, as they do tend to be somewhat annoying for some students, but the lack of intellectual diversity is the frightening part of this story,” McCully said. “This subjective nature of what can remain posted serves to the bias of the administration, which will typically side with the group that insists that the free speech has made them uncomfortable or has offended them.”

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