Racist MLK Day Fraternity Party Prompts Action From University
A highly racist fraternity party at Arizona State University that mocked Martin Luther King Jr. Day is sparking plenty of controversy. Tau Kappa Epsilon held an MLK Day “Black Party,” in which participants drank out of watermelon cups and wore stereotypical black clothing that included baggy pants and basketball jerseys. University administrators have suspended the fraternity and are looking at disciplining several students, but some feel that the First Amendment rights of the students are being violated in the process.
A press release from ASU said that “the university will not tolerate this kind of behavior” and planned to take action against everyone involved. However, some free speech advocates believe that while the party itself was in poor taste, ASU is now violating the constitutional rights of their own students. Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said that “the First Amendment prohibits punishments based solely on the subjective offensiveness of student expression.”
Shibley said that the university was right to address the party, but is taking the wrong approach in doing so. “Parties with controversial themes pop up on campuses every year,” he explained. “The right response to speech we don’t like is more speech, not censorship or punishment.” However, ASU is not the only university to be guilty of First Amendment messages. Research from FIRE shows that most universities in the U.S. have enforced illegal speech codes at some point that prohibit free expression in an attempt to shield students from hateful or offensive messages.