Last year, UVA got a “red light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for policies that limited students’ freedom of speech. In October, UVA was upgraded to “green light” status after altering or abolishing problematic speech codes, becoming one of only 13 universities in the country to receive the designation.
An event organized by students brought Adam Kissel, vice president of programs at FIRE, to Grounds last April, after which Kissel and Allen Groves, dean of students, discussed changes to unconstitutional prohibitions on speech at UVA. Virginia Robinson (Com ’11), an intern at FIRE, assisted in the reforms.
UVA has altered the wording in its bias-reporting policy so that it is clear that the University cannot discipline or investigate students for protected speech. UVA also eliminated policies that prohibited students from posting messages online that “vilify” others and sending “inappropriate messages” on mailing lists.
UVA’s Women’s Center removed two examples of sexual harassment from its website because they were overly restrictive of speech. One stated that sexual harassment extended to “jokes of a sexual nature,” “teasing” and “innuendo.” The other implied that flirting was harassment if it was not “wanted” or if an individual felt “disrespected.”
Groves reaffirmed that protected speech does not include harassment or threats, which “absolutely can be prohibited.”