Here's a shocker: some college kids acted like assholes last weekend.
The college kids in question were students at UC San Diego, and apparently members of various fraternities. The assholery? They held — and advertised on Facebook — a an off-campus party they called a "Compton Cookout."
"February marks a very important month in American society. No, i'm not referring to Valentines day or Presidents day. I'm talking about Black History month. As a time to celebrate and in hopes of showing respect, the Regents community cordially invites you to its very first Compton Cookout.
For guys: I expect all males to be rockin Jersey's, stuntin' up in ya White T (XXXL smallest size acceptable), anything FUBU, Ecko, Rockawear, High/low top Jordans or Dunks, Chains, Jorts, stunner shades, 59 50 hats, Tats, etc.
For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture. They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave, usually in bad colors, such as purple or bright red. They look and act similar to Shenaynay, and speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face. Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words, such as "constipulated", or simply cursing persistently, or using other types of vulgarities, and making noises, such as "hmmg!", or smacking their lips, and making other angry noises,grunts, and faces. The objective is for all you lovely ladies to look, act, and essentially take on these "respectable" qualities throughout the day.
Several of the regents condos will be teaming up to house this monstrosity, so travel house to house and experience the various elements of life in the ghetto.
We will be serving 40's, Kegs of Natty, dat Purple Drank- which consists of sugar, water, and the color purple , chicken, coolade, and of course Watermelon. So come one and come all, make ya self before we break ya self, keep strapped, get yo shine on, and join us for a day party to be remembered- or not. "
Yep, that sounds exactly what a 19-year-old white suburban popped-collar frat douche of modest intelligence and ability thinks is hilarious. The rest of us find it offensive at worst and belabored, sophomoric, and tedious at best.
So, asshats act like asshats: news at 11! Why is this worth noting? Because it could be a teaching moment about the appropriate institutional and public response to detestable speech.
There are conflicting reports about the official response from the administration of UC San Diego. On the one hand there are reports of an official "investigation":
Campus administrators said Wednesday that they were investigating whether the off-campus party, held Monday, and its Facebook invitation violated the university's code of conduct and whether its sponsors should be disciplined.
. . .
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Penny Rue said the probe would examine whether the fraternity was involved and whether it should face sanctions. She said it was premature to discuss discipline for individual students but said she wanted partygoers to understand how much pain they had caused, especially to African American students.
On the other hand, there have been indications that there will be no discipline:
Jeff Gattas, the UCSD executive director of communications and public affairs, told the Union-Tribune that because the event wasn't sanctioned by the university or run by a student organization, university officials don't have a reason to penalize party hosts.
There's also an indication that the administration is engaging in response speech in the form of condemnation, which as I have argued before is completely appropriate and legitimate:
In an e-mail to students and staff, UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said the party showed "blatant disregard of our campus values." She said the university would hold a teach-in next Wednesday "to discuss the importance of mutual respect and civility."
On what basis might the university seek to punish the students, or the frats? Well, they might assert that the party violated the school's Code of Conduct:
Harassment by a Student of any person.
a. For purposes of this Conduct Code, ("harassment"):
1. Is the use, display, or other demonstration of words, gestures, imagery, or physical materials, or the engagement in any form of bodily conduct, on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, alienage, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability, that has the effect of creating a hostile and intimidating environment sufficiently severe or pervasive to substantially impair a reasonable person's participation in University programs or activities, or use of University facilities;
2. Must target a specific person or persons; and
3. Must be addressed directly to that person or persons.
UC San Diego clearly made an attempt to draft that policy sufficiently narrowly to comply with First Amendment principles. I think they fell short. FIRE — the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — has an excellent summary of the essential features of a constitutional harassment policy for a public university; this policy falls short in several ways, among them the lack of a "reasonable person" limitation. More to the point, it appears that the "Compton Cookout" does not violate this standard on its face. It didn't target specific people and wasn't aimed at them.
There will be enormous pressure on the UC San Diego administration to ignore First Amendment principles and conduct an "investigation" of this conduct even though it is clear, on its face, that the conduct does not violate school rules and that the school rules would be unconstitutional if it did. Such an investigation (as opposed to official criticism and condemnation, which is entirely legitimate) would be inappropriate, chilling, expensive, and thuggish. This is a teaching moment. The administration should make a clear statement that its brief review of the circumstances shows that the offensive and fatuous event warrants contempt, not official inquiry.
The "Compton Cookout" presents a teaching moment in another way as well — it's an opportunity to remind people that the First Amendment does not protect you from being proclaimed an asshat if you act like an asshat. Before long, the specific students who created, promoted, and threw the party will be identified by name. Their names will be spread far and wide on the internet, so that in a few years, when they are looking for jobs or potential spouses, a quick Google search will reveal that they think this sort of thing is funny or appropriate. They may face widespread shunning and ridicule in the UC San Diego community, except within the subset of their douchey friends. All of that is a feature of free speech, not a bug. We refrain from official punishment of offensive speech not because we like offensive speech, but because the marketplace of ideas can take care of it. Yet you can rely on people who misunderstand or misrepresent the First Amendment to try to portray them as free speech martyrs — not because of official sanction, but because they have become the subject of criticism and contempt. I've written about this phenomenon — the misguided and obnoxious "speech is tyranny!" whine — before, and it's just as bogus (and pervasive) as ever. Now is the time for people who care about genuine free speech principles to articulate them clearly. The "Compton Cookout" party-panners should not be punished officially. But if they suffer the social consequences of being assholes, that's exactly how free speech is supposed to work. Free speech is not freedom from criticism, even hurtful criticism.
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