Iowa State University administrators continue to face pressure both to act and not to act after a “College Republicans” student group tweeted a call to arms after Joe Biden was declared president-elect Nov. 7.
“We are appalled that the Iowa State University administration has decided it will not invoke disciplinary action on a student organization, the Iowa State University College Republicans, for a tweet that, having nothing to do with the political nature of the organization, incites violence and creates a campus climate that feels threatening to and isolates students, faculty, and staff of marginalized and historically oppressed populations,” according to an open letter sent Thursday to ISU leaders, including the provost and Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
ISU spokeswoman Angie Hunt said university leaders are reviewing the letter, signed by 30 pages of ISU students, faculty, staff and alumni.
It refers to this postelection tweet from ISU’s College Republicans: “Everyone, you must arm up, expect these people to attempt to destroy your life, the elites want revenge on us.”
In their letter, the concerned campus community members sought to put the tweet in context of recent racist threats on campus, a summer of racial reckoning and the student group’s Twitter feed over time.
The group’s feed, the letter said, includes “tweets and retweets using derogatory language toward undocumented immigrants, racist calls to deport naturalized immigrants of color, calling members of the LGBTQ community mentally ill, and more.”
The letter noted that “all of the tweets referenced in this document are still published and available for viewing.”
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The student group’s tweet brought widespread reaction across social media. ISU releasing a statement condemning the message but has not announced taking any other action.
“Any suggestion of armed activity by an Iowa State student organization is prohibited by university policy,” Hunt said, according to the Iowa State Daily. “Any conduct that violates university policy will be addressed in an appropriate manner.”
The Iowa Federation of College Republicans on Nov. 10 posted a statement on Twitter delisting ISU College Republicans “on the basis of inflammatory tweets, inappropriate behavior, and disregard for fellow citizens.”
“Although we all identify as Republicans, the IFCR Executive Board and Central Committee wish to convey inclusivity and diversity of opinions,” according to statement. “While we do promote civil discourse over these ideas, we as a federation unequivocally condemn any real or perceived threat of violence.”
The University of Iowa College Republicans retweeted the federation’s statement, commenting members “stand behind the statement made by the IFCR.”
But the national Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — or FIRE — also sent warned ISU against punishing “student groups for expression protected by the First Amendment.”
“Iowa State’s intention to punish any ‘suggestion of armed activity’ encompasses a vast array of protected expression, endangering the free speech rights of not only the College Republicans, but the many student groups dedicated to discussing issues regarding weapon use,” according to FIRE’s letter. “Will Iowa State initiate disciplinary proceedings against its Ames Area Collegiate Hunting Club for planning hunting trips, its Archery Club for seeking longbow upgrades, or any other student organization promoting the use of weapons?”
FIRE then reported that ISU, within the hour, responded by “affirming that it only seeks to punish possession of use of prohibited weapons on campus — not expression — and that the College Republicans will not face disciplinary action for this tweet.”
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The national organization commended ISU for affirming that free speech protections are “core values of the university.”
But students, faculty and staff in Thursday’s letter argued this situation is different — in that it causes actual harm.
“Tweets made by a university affiliated student organization are not protected speech if they violate university policy,” the letter said.
Accusing ISU of being afraid of litigation, the letter asserts, “The administration has made a choice to disregard its own regulations on this matter.”
Its authors questioned the sincerity of the ISU administration’s statements of support over the summer as students and others marched in racial justice protests — calling the statements “merely symbolic.”
“Rather than send an emphatic and undeniable message that Iowa State University is committed to anti-racism and upholding its principles of community and Student Code of Conduct, the administration instead chose to reassure the College Republicans that they will not face disciplinary action for their behavior.”
Absent ISU discipline, the letter demanded administrators “provide a clear, direct response to this event in which they explain to the campus community the rationale for its inaction.”
“Further, we ask that the administration explain its decision not to provide an immediate statement addressing those who felt and continue to feel threatened by the organization’s escalation of harmful rhetoric, and why the institution will continue to provide a platform to an organization that regularly and flagrantly promotes hate speech.”
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