University Housing Code of Conduct changes clarify freedom of speech

Harassment cases in housing will now be reported to the Office of Student Contact. SEAN TAYLOR/ Staff

Student harassment cases in housing will fall under the Student Code of Conduct after the removal of University Housing’s Acts of Intolerance policy, according to University officials.

The Acts of Intolerance section, a clause which aimed to protect students from “behaviors that, by intent and/or outcome, harm[ed] or threaten[ed] to harm” students, was recently removed from Housing Policy in favor of the University’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy.

“The Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy covers those issues,” said Gerry Kowalski, director of University Housing. “If something like [harassment] happened, we would report that and send it to the Office of Student Conduct.”

The language of the two policies are similar in nature. The Acts of Intolerance’s inclusion of body size and socioeconomic status, groups which no longer enjoy protection under NDAH, are among the chief differences.

Kowalski said he is uncertain how the changes in Housing Policy will effect students.

“I imagine there will be changes. It’s difficult to imagine how those changes will apply,” Kowalski said. “I think that for the benefit of resident students, we want them to know that the Non-Discrimination policy is pretty clear with regards to how to treat other students.”

Will Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said this clarity in policy language is a step forward for freedom of speech at the University.

“Those policies are generally acceptable. We list much of the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy, specifically the exact definition of harassment as a green light,” Creeley said. “We give it a passing grade when it comes to protecting free speech and simultaneously fulfilling the University’s legal and moral obligation to address discriminatory harassment.”

Creeley said the previously used Acts of Intolerance policy might have given students a false impression that they had a right to not be offended, and could have silenced some students through its vague nature.

“Our concern was that the Acts of Intolerance policy was so broadly written that there were possibilities in restricting students’ ability to engage in protected speech,” he said. “It was too broad and it was vague. And as a result of that vagueness, students would choose to self-censor. Being offended is part of the deal when you accept free speech.”

Kowalski said he hoped students would not find a drastic difference between the recent change in how Housing handles harassment cases.

“Our staff will still, if they see things that look like they might be potential violations of the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy, will be reporting on those,” he said. “How those are specifically addressed at this point and time remains to be seen and how the persons who receive the messages — or whatever might have been written on a whiteboard — how they’ll perceive that, I honestly don’t know. I would hope they would still feel supported by our staff."

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