AU’s harassment policy restricts campus speech, according to the Foundation of Individual Rights for Education. FIRE, an organization that keeps track of universities’ handling of students’ individual rights, called AU a “red light university.”
The Student Handbook defines harassment as “an intimidating, hostile, or coercive act which is intentional or persistent.”
FIRE attorney Azhar Majeed said this definition is restrictive because a student could be charged for harassment for disagreeing with another student if the latter alleged his opinions were defined as ‘hostile’ or ‘intimidating.’
Majeed said this definition has the potential to limit freedom of speech.
“The expression of protected speech, no matter how ‘hostile’ it is to the views of another person, should not give rise to a finding of harassment,” he said. “On a college campus, students should be able to tolerate opposing views, even highly offensive ones.”
Majeed said the policy on harassment could be improved by using the standard for harassment set by the Supreme Court, which defines undue harassment as “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”
However, Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson said AU’s harrassment policy does not need revision.
“The Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Services has an advisory board that annually reviews the Code, and [it] just underwent an external review by experts in matters of student conduct administration and conduct codes,” she said. “Neither the internal advisory board nor the external experts expressed concern about how the Code defines ‘harassment.’”
AU’s current guidelines for free expression, which includes the harassment policy, were instated in 1982 and reviewed in 2010.
School of Communication and School of Public Affairs senior Jaclyn Yeary agreed that the definition of harassment is a tricky subject.
“I think that when you’re talking about free speech, you have the right to say what you want as long as you don’t put someone else in harm’s way,” she said. “The coercive part might be a gray area, because where do you draw the line between coercing someone and trying to show someone your opinion?”