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The Constitution and ‘Ching Chong’

First Amendment concerns should not prevent universities from punishing bigotry

By JAE-HYUK YOU, Crimson Staff Writer

The online community was not at all forgiving to the words “ching chong, ling long, ting tong.”

On March 11, Alexandra Wallace, a student at University of California, Los Angeles, posted a clearly offensive video online in which she complained about Asian people on their phones the library: “I swear, they’re going through their whole families, just checking on everyone from the tsunami thing.” The viral video’s polarized remarks drew nationwide criticism and even alleged death threats. Nonetheless, the UCLA administration decided to abstain from disciplinary action because, “As a public university, UCLA protects free expression. While I and most on campus were appalled by the sentiments expressed in a recent YouTube video, we have uncovered no facts that lead us to believe that the Student Code of Conduct was violated.” However, as an educational institution, the University ought to have taken disciplinary action against Wallace so as to educate the community and remind students of its accepted values.

Granted, Wallace’s words—even the racial slurs—are protected by the First Amendment.  The Bill of Rights is designed to protect the fundamental principles of human liberty, including freedom of speech. Wallace’s rights to voice discriminatory remarks are undeniably protected, given that the Supreme Court even protects the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest. Additionally, Wallace received public humiliation and harsh treatment on YouTube in response to her video, and this may have influenced UCLA’s decision to refrain from disciplinary action.

However, UCLA had the right to punish Wallace and ought to have exercised that right, teaching her the unacceptability of her wrongdoings and to elucidate to others the values of the community. By enrolling at UCLA, Wallace and her peers implicitly agreed to subscribe to the rules of the school, such as the “nondiscrimination Policy Statement for University of California Publications Regarding Student-Related Matters.” Given that viral media is such a popular and widespread means of communicating on college campuses, it seems misguided and naïve to, on one hand, hold campus publications to a high standard of respectful conduct, and on the other hand, allow students to act in a discriminatory method in on an even bigger stage. If a student subsequently violates an institution’s code of conduct by openly voicing racial discrimination and bigoted slurs, the University should take disciplinary action when a student breaks this agreement

The reasons to punish students for bigotry extend beyond this.  Plainly, the consequences of bigotry in professional and public life today are real, and students must learn this. Just recently, John Galliano, Christian Dior’s chief designer, was dismissed for his anti-Semitic remarks. Even at Harvard, former University President Lawrence H. Summers resigned after the uproar over comments he made about women in science. Why tacitly accept a standard of behavior from students that is clearly not acceptable in any post-graduate professional sphere?

The First Amendment may protect students from federal punishment, but educational institutions can and should punish its students for their discriminatory statements regardless of their protection under the constitution. Wallace ultimately decided to leave UCLA, saying that her mistake “led to the harassment of [her] family, the publishing of [her] personal information, death threats, and being ostracized from an entire community.” Unfortunately, she learned the hard way that such remarks cannot be left alone, regardless of official university action or, in this case, inaction. By accepting bigoted remarks from other students in the name of protecting freedom of expression and upholding constitutional rights, the University would be doing a disservice to its students.

Jaehyuk You ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Straus Hall.

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