College Student Disciplined Over Photo With Rifle

A Fordham University student says he’s being forced to undergo “political re-education” after running afoul of campus administrators after posting a picture of himself holding a rifle and referencing the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Andrew Tong tells the Epoch Times that officials at Fordham declared that he had violated the university’s regulations “relating to bias/and or hate crimes” as well as the school’s policy against “threats/intimidation” with two social media posts.

The first post was simply a picture of retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn, who was murdered during riots in St. Louis a few weeks ago. Beneath Dorn’s picture, Tong simply wrote “Y’all a bunch of hypocrites.” In the second post, Tong posed with a rifle, captioning the picture “Don’t tread on me #198964” with emojis of the U.S. and Chinese flags.

Tong says that was a reference to the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which took place June 4th, 1989. As the son of Chinese immigrants, you can imagine that Tong might have some strong opinions about the massacre of students and pro-democracy demonstrators at the hands of the Communist government, but I don’t see anything threatening at all in his Instagram post.

According to the college student, however, the complaints about his picture began almost immediately after it was posted to the social media site.

On the night of June 4, hours after Tong’s posts gained the university’s attention, a group of public safety officers paid Tong an unexpected visit, questioning him about his possession of a firearm and his intention behind those posts. A university investigation into Tong’s alleged violation of its code of conduct ensued over the following month, with it concluding that Tong’s action should be punished.

As part of his disciplinary probation, which will remain in effect until he graduates, Tong is banned from representing the university in any extracurricular activities or running for or holding leadership roles in student organizations. Tong can no longer enter the university campus without the dean’s permission, and he has to finish the remainder of the school year through remote learning. In what Tong described as a “Soviet nightmare,” the university is also demanding him to complete “implicit bias” training with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and write an apology letter.

Tong acknowledges that Fordham University is a private institution, so the First Amendment argument that would apply to a public university don’t come into play here. Still, he says that the university claims to protect and cherish “freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas.” Clearly that’s not the case based on the reaction to Tong’s innocuous social media posts.

The student says that unless the university rescinds its punishment and apologizes for the crackdown on his speech, he’ll take legal action. In a letter to Fordham officials, Tong wrote that he’s willing to take his case to the Supreme Court if necessary, adding, “This is not the time to retreat in the dread of fear, this is the time to fight in the name of democracy.”

I wish him the best of luck, but he may be fighting an uphill battle, at least in terms of getting his apology. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has named repeatedly Fordham as one of the worst universities in the country in terms of protecting the freedom of speech of students. FIRE ranks both public and private universities with a color-coded system: green means the school does protect the First Amendment rights of students and faculty, yellow means there are some issues, and red means that the school has at least one policy in place that “clearly and substantially” restricts the freedom of speech. Fordham University has received a “Red Light” ranking because of the very policies used to target Tong.

Fordham’s Internet Usage Policy, which prohibits “using any IT resource or communication services…to intimidate, insult, embarrass and harass others,” and its Harassment Policy, which is defines sexual harassment “as ‘unwelcome conduct’ of a sexual nature, including but not limited to sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” fall under this classification.

If Tong hasn’t already reached out to FIRE, I would encourage him to do so. The organization not only ranks colleges and universities on their speech codes, it challenges some of those codes in court as well. If Tong is looking to take the fight to Fordham, the FIRE would be a good ally to have in his corner.