Right-wing group of students hanging over ‘anti-China’ stickers


Boston’s Emerson College has suspended a group of right-wing students after members distributed stickers that read “CHINA KINDA SUS,” the latter word meaning “suspect,” according to the campus free speech organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which rallied to the defense of students.

According to documents posted on the FIRE website, Emerson administrators sent a letter to the president of the Emerson chapter of Turning Point USA on October 1, informing the group that he may have violated the university’s policies on “bias-related behaviors” and “invasion of privacy.”

The letter placed interim restrictions on the group pending investigation, prohibiting the Turning Point USA Chapter from hosting campus events, including “programs, meetings and / or presentations.” The letter said failure to comply with these restrictions “could result in additional sanctions, up to and including dismissal from the College.”

The letter also cautioned against an expectation to “keep what is discussed in our conversations confidential” and said “you should not discuss any statements you make during the interview, with anyone”, at with the exception of a “personal representative”.

FIRE argued in a letter to Acting Chairman Emerson sent on Oct. 5 that the distribution of stickers saying “CHINA KINDA SUS” is protected by Emerson’s promises of free speech, which are guaranteed in policies. of college. The group also maintains that the sticker does not constitute harassing speech.

“It may be offensive to others, but it is not a repeated or targeted type of behavior that would amount to discriminatory harassment,” said Adam Steinbaugh, lawyer for FIRE. “It’s a sticker they’re giving out and people can take it or leave it.

“It’s a little hard to argue that this is a protected class-based discourse as the face of the sticker refers to the Chinese government,” Steinbaugh continued. “It bears the hammer and sickle emblem and refers to China, not the Chinese people. I would say this is a criticism of the Chinese government, not its people. “

FIRE’s letter, written by Steinbaugh, also notes that the grounds for the invasion of privacy charge are “unclear.”

“Members of the organization believe the charge is likely based on their video and audio recording act as they dropped into the driveway at Boylston Place,” Steinbaugh wrote. “If so, open recording of video and audio in a public space does not violate Emerson’s policy, which prohibits recordings only” in an environment considered private or in which there is an expectation. reasonable confidentiality ”. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces.

A spokeswoman for Emerson declined to comment, saying only that the college “is investigating the matter and cannot comment further at this time.”

College administrators variously characterized the contents of the stickers as “anti-Chinese” and “anti-Chinese”.

William P. Gilligan, acting president of Emerson, sent a college-wide email on September 30 saying the stickers included “anti-Chinese messages that are inconsistent with college values. and will not be tolerated on our campus ”.

“The expression of free ideas cannot and should not violate these norms which are integral to creating an environment where all members of our community feel a sense of belonging,” wrote Gilligan. “At this particular time, when there has been a rise in anti-Asian sentiment, it is important to speak out against all instances of anti-Asian bigotry and hatred, and to affirm our support and solidarity with the Asian and Asian-American community on campus and around the world. ”

A separate message from Emerson administrators to international students denounced “the use of free speech platforms for statements that are used as xenophobic weapons” and called the speech stickers “anti-China hate. “.

Members of several Emerson student groups representing international students or students from Asia or China specifically did not respond to requests for comment emailed on Friday.

Leaders of Turning Point USA’s Emerson chapter also did not respond to requests for comment.

In a video posted on the Twitter feed of the Turning Point USA Emerson Chapter, an anonymous spokeswoman for the group who identified herself as being of Singaporean Chinese descent said, “The sticker is meant to criticize the Chinese government, the regime responsible for the biggest genocide in the world today. It has nothing to do with Asian ethnicity or Asian culture.

“The genocide sucks,” said section spokeswoman Emerson, who referred to China’s actions against Uyghur Muslims, which the US government has called genocide. “We’re sorry, but we can’t put it all in one sticker. The sticker contains the symbol of the Chinese Communist Party, which should make it clear that this is the tyrannical party that rules China and not the people who live or come from this country.

“We demand an apology from all those who have defamed our organization,” said the spokesperson. “It is worrying that so many people have taken the hate train without any context. “

The national group Turning Point USA, to which the Emerson branch is affiliated, said in an article on its website that “the radical leftists at Emerson College are currently succeeding in their totalitarian tirade against the Turning Point USA section of the campus.”

Turning Point USA was founded by Charlie Kirk, a notorious ally of former President Trump. The organization, which describes itself as dedicated to educating and organizing students “to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government,” publishes a “Faculty Watchlist” dedicated to “unmask radical professors “.

In a brief profile of Turning Point USA, the Anti-Defamation League states that the group “has received considerable support from conservatives and pro-Trump organizations” and that “the reactions of right-wing extremists to the group have varied, but generally positive. “

Demetri L. Morgan, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Loyola University in Chicago and co-editor of Student Activism, Politics and Campus Climate in Higher Education (Routledge 2019), said conservative groups like Turning Point USA have a “symbiotic” relationship with higher education, where they need fodder for their claims of leftist indoctrination or trampling on free speech. .

“They are doing these inflammatory things to anger the administration and other student groups on campus,” he said.

“You must be wondering what is the intention of these stickers, what is the intention of trying to elevate that dialogue and have these stickers with a meme on it -” CHINA KINDA SUS “- is that the best way? To be continued about engaging in what might be their particular concerns about China? ”Morgan asked.“ There are many examples of faculty and student groups dealing with these controversial issues with respect, nuance and insight, and I think we need to disentangle that from those efforts to get a particular kind of response that serves as a bargaining chip for these groups. “

Justin Chen, editor for Emerson’s student newspaper, Berkeley Lighthouse, argued in an editorial that administration and students should hold the Emerson Turning Point chapter accountable.

“TPUSA Emerson did not realize that by using the word ‘China’, the organization generalizes 1.4 billion people from China and the Asian community as ‘sus’,” Chen wrote. “This includes Chinese international students and Asian-American college students. Many students have spoken out against their wrongdoing and expressed their anger at the organization on its Instagram page, meaning the organization knows the post they are converting is deemed racist and knows the anger that is mounting within the community. Emerson. Why do they always stay silent after lots of complaints? “

Chen said the Emerson administration “should ask the leaders of the organization to publicly apologize and dissolve the organization instead of investigating it.” An investigation is unnecessary since the entire campus witnessed what was happening. “

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