FIRE - Speech Code of the Month: The Ohio State University Speech Code of the Month: The Ohio State University
September 6, 2007 FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for September 2007: The Ohio State University. The Office of University Housing at Ohio State, a public university, maintains a Diversity Statement [PDF]that severely restricts what students in Ohio State’s residence halls can and cannot say. Students are instructed: ”Do not joke about differences related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, socioeconomic background, etc.” Of the many hundreds of policies FIRE has catalogued over the years, this is the first that flatly instructs students, ”do not joke” about controversial topics. As anyone who has ever lived in a dormitory can likely attest, dorms are where some of the freest and most frank discussions among college students take place. And some of those discussions will almost certainly include–gasp!–jokes about controversial topics such as race, ethnicity, and yes, possibly even ability. It was my own personal experience that in my very diverse residence hall freshman year, humor–sometimes even quite offensive humor–was a common ground that brought together and forged friendships among people of very different backgrounds. But rather than embrace the type of frank expression that often characterizes college student communication–expression that can indeed lead to offense but can also lead to friendships based on greater understanding–Ohio State has chosen to squelch it in favor of a superficially polite and politically correct environment. Not only is that an unfortunate choice, it is also one that, at a public university like Ohio State, violates students’ constitutional right to free speech. There is no exception to the First Amendment for ethnic jokes or dumb blonde jokes.
Of course, differences of "race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, socioeconomic background, etc.” include all the differences you can imagine, so if there are any budding comics on the OSU campus, they'll have to start out by saying "There were two people who were exactly the same."
For more about ethnic jokes, see Why Ethnic Humor Is Funny, and Preventing Kid Prejudice The Sailer (One Point) Plan.