Syracuse University’s (N.Y.) suspension of 30 students who organized a sit-in earlier this week to protest campus bigotry blatantly obstructed students’ right to free expression. This injustice raises significant questions surrounding the implementation of Emory’s own free speech-related policies. While Syracuse’s administration has since lifted those suspensions, that such harsh punishments were levied in the first place should serve as a wake-up call for all institutions of higher education.
Syracuse had an equal obligation to protect both students’ right to free expression and their safety. No college should abet the trauma of violent demonstration, as occurred during the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally at the University of Virginia or the 2017 riot at at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Given that, only threats of immediate bodily harm should permit universities to assert their authority over protesters. Since the Syracuse sit-in was entirely peaceful, the university’s administration had no grounds on which to interfere.
In punishing the protesters while failing to adequately investigate the incidences of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia which sparked their demonstration, the university acted unevenly and with considerable bias. Unless the university can prevent further incidents of bigotry, such events will continue. Furthermore, penalizing a peaceful demonstration both constrains political activity and impairs the university’s ability to respond to genuinely violent demonstrations.