Syracuse suspends 16 students for satirical frat roast

Syracuse University is coming under fire for issuing lengthy suspensions to 16 students who took part in an offensive fraternity skit earlier this year. 

An internal investigation found the students guilty of “an immediate breach of the peace” for expression that was “beyond the bounds of protected speech,” according to a press release from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud also called the contents of the video “extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities” in a campus-wide email, according to The Daily Orange.

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The charged students are facing an “indefinite suspension from Syracuse University for two academic years,” according to a copy of the hearing results released by FIRE. 

In order to apply for readmission in the fall of 2020, each student must write a 12-page paper on being “a member of a diverse community,” read three books on inclusion or bystander intervention, and write a personal statement affirming that they “will contribute to building a positive community,” according to the hearing results.

The document also states that each student must perform 160 hours of community service before readmission, which according to FIRE is “more than the maximum recommended number of community service hours for Class B Misdemeanors in New York such as jury tampering.”

Regardless of the content of their speech, FIRE argues the students had every right to exercise the First Amendment, especially on a campus that promises students the right to free speech.

“Syracuse University is committed to the principle that freedom of discussion is essential to the search for truth and, consequently, welcomes and encourages the expression of dissent,” the Campus Disruption Policy states.

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“Despite objections that these students were being tried as a group, by a biased committee, and ‘represented’ by an agent of the university, Syracuse has the gall to maintain that justice was served,” FIRE wrote in a letter to Syverud.

“Instead of keeping its promise of freedom of expression, Syracuse’s investigators went straight to ‘show me the man and I’ll find you the crime,’ endorsing the absurd belief that the roast threatened both the mental and physical health of people who were neither mentioned in it nor present for it,” stated Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. 

“Labeling this obvious satire ‘harassment’ makes light of the actual cases of serious harassment that colleges should be looking to combat, and wastes resources that could be used to investigate real offenses,” Cohn added. “Labeling it a ‘breach of the peace’ is just stupid.”

“Apparently, all that is required to throw a student out of school is that some other student claims to feel unsafe,” remarked Syracuse law professor Gregory Germain. “Rumors and self-serving statements by anonymous students are enough to justify severe academic punishments without regard to whether the accused’s statements or conduct are objectively threatening to anyone. It’s a terrible day for due process and free speech on college campuses.”

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