UNH Censors Again

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is in "encore presentation" status for a few more days. Until our regularly scheduled programming returns, enjoy last April's tale of thwarted outrage at the University Near Here.]

Or, to quote Buck Murdock: "Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has the story: University of New Hampshire’s removal of anti-sexual harassment exhibit undermines free speech.

FIRE and others are asking questions about the University of New Hampshire’s decision to remove a student-led exhibit criticizing street harassment and allow it to be re-posted only after making changes apparently acceptable to administrators’ tastes about what language is sufficiently inoffensive to be shared on a university campus.

"Street harassment" is a thing now. It refers to guys making sexually suggestive remarks (of varying degrees of offensiveness) to women in public. The exhibit in question (there's a picture of it at the FIRE link) contains somewhere around three dozen examples, all allegedly based on survey results gathered by UNH's Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), where students were invited to submit things they actually heard said to them on the street. The exhibit appeared in the primary hallway of the Memorial Union Building (MUB).

To state the obvious: a college town like Durham is an overflowing petri dish of young-person hormones combined with varying degrees of desperation, insecurity, and general stupidity.

And the latter is enhanced via copious amounts of cheap beer and weed.

And finally, on the "street", especially on Thursday-Saturday nights, an additional factor comes into play: the notion that everyone's on the prowl, "looking for a good time".

So it's not very surprising that "street harassment" happens in Durham. In fact, SHARPP's Director, Amy Culp, is completely believable when she claims that the display was restricted to some of the "milder" comments submitted.

"I understand that some found them to be concerning; however, it’s important to note that these were far less vile than the other list of comments that were reported,” [Culp] said.

The FIRE article is pretty brutal in describing the censorship imposed by UNH Administration. FIRE reports the student newspaper's quote from Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick:

Additionally, open house season for admitted students and their families began last week and, according to Kirkpatrick, some of the “language used on the MUB wall placards was not suitable for young children or for those members of our publics and our campus community who have strong personal convictions that may originate from religious, spiritual or ethnic roots.”

Something FIRE missed in the above is the "open house season" factor. Specifically: prospective college applicants and their families flock to UNH at this time of year, and a lot of them traipse through that MUB hallway.

Now, Dean Kirkpatrick's claimed concern for "young children" etc., is fine, but I can't help but think he had a bigger, unstated, worry: that moms and dads would see the display and think that just maybe they didn't want to plonk their daughter into such a self-admitted sexually-besotted environment. Which, in turn would impact the UNH pocketbook. Can't have that!

Of course, when it comes to the UNH Administration vs. SHARPP, there's a certain "isn't there some way they could both lose" schadenfreude involved. SHARPP has long been a force for stupidity at UNH, subordinating the worthy goal of a less-sexually-toxic environment to the more important goal of tediously hectoring the student body against "sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, able-bodyism, ageism and other oppressions."

The "brains" behind the street harassment display is Jordyn Haime, described as "a freshman journalism major and SHARPP community educator". If you have the time and inclination, you can read her student-newspaper op-eds here and here. She is a living example of George F. Will's aphorism: when colleges and universities "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

But I was struck by this bit in the (sympathetic, of course) Huffington Post story about the controversy:

“I think I started carrying a pocketknife with me when I was 16, I bought myself a can of pepper spray for my 18th birthday, and my mom bought me a new container of mace before I went off to college,” Haime told [the author] via email. “So I think that speaks a lot to what young people are expected to deal with on college campuses or just walking down the street.”

Hey, Jordyn? I'd like to draw your attention to the rules:

The University of New Hampshire is a weapon free campus. This applies to all residence halls and apartments. Weapons include but are not limited to, firearms, simulated firearms, dangerous chemicals, any explosive device, nunchucks, brass knuckles, butterfly knives, paintball guns/equipment and any other materials that can be used to intimidate, threaten or endanger others, are prohibited on campus. Any knife, including a butter knife, used as a weapon shall be considered a violation of this policy.

So you better hope that the dorm cops don't read the HuffPo.