Clemson University’s Reckless Harassment and Discrimination Policies -Zachary Faria

This past Monday, 11/20/17, the Clemson Undergraduate Student Senate introduced a resolution to express support for the addition of more protected categories to Clemson’s Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination policy. However, there is a much more pressing issue with the policy that the senate should be focusing on.

The qualifiers for harassment and sexual harassment under this policy are so recklessly vague that anything and everything could fall into these categories. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties in higher education, has devised a system for ranking university policies as they protect student rights. Clemson’s Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination policy has received both a red and yellow light rating from FIRE, implying that extreme negligence and the possibility for abuse could occur with the way these policies are written.

Clemson Univerty’s ambiguous definitions for discrimination and harassment

As an example, Clemson’s definition of harassment under this policy includes “jokes or other verbal conduct”, in clear contradiction with the First Amendment. The vague and overbroad nature of the policy puts any and all student speech at risk of being labeled harassment. Any joke which merely involves someone’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any of the nine other protected statuses qualifies as harassment. The resolution introduced Monday by the CUSG Senate calls on the University to add six more protected statuses, without addressing the fact that harassment against these groups is whatever the university decides it is. Crack a Christian joke while at FCA? Harassment, or that’s at least what this vague and lazy policy of the University implies.

The sexual harassment section of the policy is no better, stating that “unwelcome sexual advances” and “verbal conduct of a sexual nature” qualifies as sexual harassment. Once again, the lack of specificity is alarming, and it’s unclear what is actually considered sexual harassment under this policy. According to a recent YouGov poll, over 1/3 of young adults consider a man complimenting a woman on her looks to be sexual harassment, while 1/4 consider asking a woman out for a drink to qualify. Under Clemson’s policy, it is entirely possible that both of these things could be punishable offenses.

Ironically enough, Clemson does have a green-light policy from FIRE. Clemson’s Purpose statement in the student code of conduct states that “[a]cademic institutions exist for the transmission of knowledge, the pursuit of truth, the development of students and the general well-being of society. Free inquiry and free expression are indispensable to the attainment of these goals”. This statement is entirely correct, which makes it even more disappointing that the university chooses to ignore it completely in favor of a policy casts doubt over whether any speech is protected on our campus.

CUSG is fond of their saying, “We see you. We hear you. We are fighting for you,” and this is their chance to fulfill it. As Clemson students, we have an interest in ensuring the University has policies which protect students, absolutely. However, lazily drafted policy with written without appropriate foresight does more harm to students than good.  If our own student government won’t stand up to the university to fight for our freedoms, who will?

First page of the resolution which was introduced to Senate on 11/20/17. The resolution seeks to add new categories to the protected classes under Clemson University’s Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policies.