Student sues ISU over anti-speech harassment training

A student is suing Iowa State University for threatening to withhold his diploma if he refused to complete a training program teaching that annoyances constitute harassment.

The Stream reports that Robert Dunn, president of the university’s Young America’s Foundation chapter, received an email in September instructing him to attend a training program on ISU’s “non-discrimination policies and procedures,” which concerned him because he had previously been warned that simply expressing opposition to same-sex marriage could be considered harassment under the school’s policies.

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When he inquired with the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity about the consequences of declining to participate, Dunn says he was informed that his graduation would be put on hold and that his name would be placed on a list to be reviewed by the Dean of Students.

According to a statement by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal firm representing Dunn, ISU maintains a broad definition of harassment that even prohibits speech with the potential to “annoy or alarm another,” and in fact acknowledges that its policies“may cover those activities which...[do not] meet the legal definition of harassment."

Moreover, the extensive, 118-slide anti-harassment training course “provides no expressed acknowledgement of any free speech rights of students or their interplay with the university’s ‘harassment’ policies.”

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“These are anti-speech policies masquerading as ‘harassment’ policies. They are not befitting an institution of higher education, especially when Iowa State demands that students agree to them under threat of withholding the ability to graduate,” said Casey Mattox, senior counsel for ADF. “No university policy can trump the First Amendment, [but] Iowa State thinks it knows better than the First Amendment, making other student’s opinions about the value of a student’s speech, instead of the Constitution, the test for whether speech is protected.”

The lawsuit, Dunn v Leath, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, seeks an immediate suspension of the policy and a declaration from the court affirming that ISU violated Dunn’s First and 14th Amendment rights.

“Students shouldn't be forced to give up their Bill of Rights protections in order to graduate,” Dunn declared emphatically in a statement to Campus Reform.

A spokesperson for ISU, on the other hand, told Campus Reform that the university had no comment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice