LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A concern on campus lead to a discussion about diversity at the University of Louisville on Monday.
Dr. Ricky Jones, a professor and director of Pan-African Studies at the university, voiced his frustrations with the school’s response to a student who handed out anti-gay pamphlets to an LGBTQ-focused class.
“While the student’s actions caused concern among the students and faculty in the classroom, he apparently followed the law and university policy when distributing the literature,” a statement from UofL’s spokesperson, John Karman said.
Dr. Jones told students, faculty and staff that be believed it went beyond the Freedom of Speech when the student came back a second time.
“We are not making anti free speech arguments. That is not the argument we are making. We are not even arguing that the student did not have the right to pamphlet the class,” he explained. “The argument that we're making is that he has crossed out of the boundaries of free speech and moved into a realm of targeting, harassment and intimidation. Once he pamphlet-ed the class, I and others do not understand why it was necessary for him to return to the class.”
According to the University, the student was trying to share information not intimidate, but some students took it very differently.
“That wasn't him just popping up in Davidson and saying I'm going to hand these out everywhere. This was a specific classroom that he knew was going to be full of queer students,” explained Finn Depriest, who was not in that specific class but has taken classes with Dr. Kaila Story before.
“It was frustrating. I was super aggravated, because she's given students such a space to feel safe and for someone to invade that.”
Students said there’s a security guard that stands in front of the door before and after class. Jones said the student was told he'd have to give 48-hours of notice before showing up again, but doesn’t believe that’s enough.
“This student has to be contacted immediately and be told 'do not return to that class,’” he said. Dr. Jones has no issue with the student exercising his right of free speech in an open area on campus. “Nobody is saying you can't pass the stuff out, we're just saying, ‘look man, don't come back.’”
UofL President Dr. Neeli Bendapudi met with students after the incident.
“The students and I discussed how, as a learning community at a public university, we also respect and must uphold free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. We express this in the CARDINAL Principles as a commitment to prepare students for ideas rather than protect them from ideas, however disagreeable they may be to any of us personally. This is not just some abstract ideal that institutions of higher education espouse. For a public university, failure to protect free speech leads to significant consequences if we infringe on one’s constitutional rights. At the same time, as a university we have the right, in fact an obligation, to educate our community and advance our goals of creating an inclusive environment.”
Depriest finds the silver lining knowing there's still acceptance on their campus, and hopes their voices will be heard.
“I hate that this has to be such a horrible thing to happen for people to come together and you get to see, but also you get to see all the people who you can go to and you can count on.”