Aditya and I take a strong position against the official statements of bias related incidents.
We know that there is no 'right' to be offended. We agree that offensive material should be condemned and criticized for its immaturity, but shouldn't give rise to speech codes or hate crimes, both of which are against the spirit of the American constitution and human liberty itself.
As such, it came as something of a shock to me that my co-blogger, David, would go take the flier from the promotion of the Wild West party to go "report a bias-related incident."
As a sometimes Christian, it certainly offends me and is likely to be pretty offensive to the family members I have who are believers. When you believe that Christ died for your sins, it is pretty hard to take the use of him for sacrilegious purposes. But I would never use the power of the school to get people to condemn an act of speech.
Still, in the process of reporting a bias-related incident, David seems more in the process of following an intellectual curiosity than a full fledged belief that Christianity is under attack on our campuses. By contacting the Dean of Harvey Mudd and CMC, David did us all a favor by exposing the standards by which the five colleges determine whether or not they are offended.
HMC Dean Guy L. Gerbrick basically has engaged in legalese to twist himself out of having to come down against the statement by the standards that Harvey Mudd itself has set up. Remember, Harvey Mudd is the same school where a girl got in trouble for saying the negao word and where a student wrote "Hillary is a foxy lesbian" only to be threatened by one of the Deans. (Apparently truth is no defense against accusations of a bias-related incident...)
He's right to argue that determining whether or not this is a bias related incident is one of subjectivity, but by that token, all bias related incidents are subjective and therefore have no place being condemned officially, constituting as they do, student protected speech under the Leonard Law and the First Amendment.
This statement seems awfully weasel worded when compared with those of prior statements. Might it be evidence of bias against Christians? I surely wouldn't go that far! But judge for yourself:
He is to be commended for discussing the issue, given that Harvey Mudd has had such a poor respect for the Leonard Law. (It is the only one of the five colleges to be rated with a speech code of "Red" by FIRE.)
The dean of students at CMC received an email from a CMC student who was
offended at the use of the image of Jesus with a beer can in one hand
and a cigarette in the other to advertise the Wild Wild West party. The
heading for the poster additionally stated: "Where is the one who has
been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the West and have come to
The use of a demeaning depiction of a religious symbol to promote a
party is clearly offensive to many people. HMC is a community that value
everyone. This is not okay on a campus that strives to inculcate real
respect for people with differing backgrounds, opinions, and values. We
can do better than that.
Since there has been much discussion lately about what constitutes a
bias related incident, let's use this example so that everyone understands.
This student reported that he was offended--as a Catholic--to the dean
on his campus about a flyer posted by our students on his campus (or
maybe he saw one on Platt when he came to Jay's Place).
The bias related incident protocol
"Bias related incidents are expressions of hostility against another
person (or group) because of that person's (or group's) race, color,
religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, gender or sexual
orientation, or because the perpetrator perceives that the other person
(or group) has one or more of those characteristics. As used in this
Protocol, the term 'bias related incident' is limited to conduct that
violates one or more of The Claremont Colleges' disciplinary codes and
which is not protected by the First Amendment of the United States
Constitution or by analogous provisions of state law."
The student complained that the flyer was offensive to him because of
his religion. That satisfies the first part of the definition. Does it
violate an HMC disciplinary code? Let's check the Discriminatory
"B. Discriminatory Harassment is defined as behavior that creates an
offensive, demeaning, intimidating, or hostile environment.
Discriminatory harassment must meet the following criteria:
* The conduct is related to race, color, religion, ancestry, national
origin, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation
or any other classification or characteristic protected by law
* The conduct is unwanted or unwelcome
* The conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with
or otherwise unreasonably adversely affecting an individual?s
employment, educational opportunity, work performance, or organizational
This incident certainly meets the first two criteria. Does it meet the
third? That is very difficult to judge. Given the subjective nature of
determining whether someone has been reasonably or unreasonably affected
by something, we have generally defaulted to the complainant's
definition of the situation. This student, by bringing the matter
forward, has seemingly deemed the depiction unreasonable.
If there's a doubt about whether a picture can be discriminatory, the
policy further clarifies: "Examples of discriminatory harassment may
include:... 3. Visual conduct: demeaning depictions (pictures, objects,
posters, video, audio, or broadcast material) in a public place."
Now, HMC has a separate poster policy that says (in short) that if you
find something on a flyer offensive, you pull one down and contact the
person who made the poster to complain
However, our posting policy seems to be incompatible with our
discriminatory harassment policy. This is an area that we need to reconcile.
I hope this long explanation clarifies how the deans of students of the
Claremont Colleges make decisions about handling bias related incidents.
I also hope that you don't lose sight of the feeling of hurt that these
types of incidents cause. We can often get tangled in discussions of
rights and forget about the people who are truly hurt by the
insensitivity of others.
If you want to dispute my reasoning or discuss these policies or the
Wild Wild West flyer further, please use firstname.lastname@example.org. That is a
good forum for everyone to participate.
If you are a Mudd student, staff, or faculty member who is not currently
subscribed, you can do so by writing to email@example.com and typing
only "subscribe community-l" in the body of the text. If you'd like to
see the recent archives of community-l, they are at