Florida A&M University pushes policies in tension with free expression

According to Florida A&M University policy, 'activities that are considered offensive to others that do not constitute ones freedom of expression [are] prohibited' in residential areas.

This is just one of a multitude of FAMU policies that seem to be in tension with the freedom of speech and expression at the school.

According to official Florida A&M University (FAMU) student residential policy, “[b]ehavior and/or activities that are considered offensive to others that do not constitute ones freedom of expression is prohibited, while in public areas of the residential facilities.” 

This is just one of a multitude of FAMU policies that, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), are in tension with the freedom of speech and expression at the school. 

FIRE also points, for example, to FAMU’s dress standards, which preclude wearing “[c]lothing with derogatory, offensive and/or lewd messages either in words or pictures.”

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The Florida university also defines “gender-based harassment” as including using any language relating to gender identity or sexual orientation that has “the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational, living or work environment,” leaving FAMU open to the charge that using pronouns an individual finds offensive may constitute harassment.

Despite these policies, FAMU officially claims to support freedom of expression, as they are one of several signatories to the “State University System of Florida Statement on Free Expression.”

According to that statement, freedom of expression forms “an integral part of our three-part university mission to deliver a high quality academic experience for our students, engage in meaningful and productive research, and provide valuable public service for the benefit of our local communities and the state.”

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“A fundamental purpose of an institution of higher education is to provide a learning environment where divergent ideas, opinions and philosophies, new and old, can be rigorously debated and critically evaluated,” the statement goes on to say.

FIRE has given FAMU an overall free speech rating of yellow, which indicates that a school “has at least one yellow light policy that restricts a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of vague wording, can too easily be used to restrict protected expression.”

Campus Reform previously reported that FAMU contains six liberal student organizations and only one conservative student organization. In addition, of FAMU employees that made federal political donations in 2020, 77.85% of donations went to Democratic candidates, while only 22.15% went to Republican candidates.

Campus Reform contacted FIRE and FAMU for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.