Black students at the University of Missouri are outraged after the president of the institution did not harshly reprimand or punish a white student who made a racist joke about killing African-Americans. The head of the school determined because the comment was made in private and was never intended to be shared publicly, it was within her First Amendment rights.
At the beginning of December, Megan Miller, the former president of the University of Missouri’s Turning Point USA conservative group, posted on Snapchat a remark that said, “If They Would Have Killed 4 More N*ggers We Would Have Had the Whole Week Off.”
According to the Kansas City Defender, her post was a response to various schools suspending classes in reaction to three African-American football players from the University of Virginia (Devin Chandler, Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry) being killed on campus in November.
Some say her tasteless joke was a take on Doug Tracht, an 1980s disc jockey, who said during the celebration of the first federal marking of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, on air that if they were to kill “four more” it would get him and the other radio personalities the rest of the week off.
According to KansasCity.com, University of Missouri spokesperson Christian Basi said, the young woman did not post the message publicly and that the way it became viral is because someone made a screenshot of it and started to share it on social media, sparking the outrage.
The outrage from the post impacted her in a way also, causing her to step down from her position as campus chapter leader at Turning Point USA.
On Monday, Jan. 9, in a campus-wide email, University of Missouri President Mun Choi stated the young woman’s remarks do not warrant punishment or discipline from his administration.
First, he stated, Mizzou condemned the Snapchat post immediately, before detailing the process that the Office of Institutional Equity and the Office of Student Accountability and Support did to investigate the social media post in its full context.
Dr. Choi wrote, “Upon review, the student’s racial slur was expressed in a direct message to her friend and was not communicated in a way that harassed any individual. In that context, the speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
“Because we are a public institution, constrained by the First Amendment,” Choi continued. “OIE and OSAS concluded the university has no grounds to discipline the student who sent the message, even though it is diametrically opposed to our values.”
The school said that it believed that it was “equally important … to emphasize that the First Amendment has limits” and stated it would be taking action in cases where students are directly harassed or discriminated against and cited an incident in 2022 when a student was expelled after directing “a racial slur at a fellow student.”
First Amendment attorney Max Kautsch told station KOMU the university has to apply a set of rules when considering whether to sanction a student for off-campus speech.
“Those rules dictate that the state, which is a public university, would infringe on the First Amendment rights of this individual,” the Kansas lawyer said. Kautsch said a critical factor to consider is whether the speech threatened a student or the student body.
“Then it also has to cause a substantial disruption,” he added. “If the university were going to try to impose discipline, those are the factors that they have to consider. The fact that something is offensive, is not enough.”
The school’s Legion of Black Collegians responded to the decision with a letter that states, “We, The Legion of Black Collegians, have been in continuous conversations with administration regarding this incident since it first occurred, so we are disheartened, yet entirely unsurprised that out ‘valued’ input has been entirely disregarded.”
“Today’s decision, as blatantly wrong as it is, was easily predictable, as it reflects the current attitude shared by the university itself: the worries and concerns of Black people on this campus do not warrant the university’s attention,” adding the institution’s “lack of action concerning this situation sends a clear message about who the university is intent on protecting.”
The organization ended its letter with three demands from the school regarding its commitment to protecting Black students, faculty, and staff on the campus. LBC says it wants a complete and transparent review of the school’s policies regarding hate speech, the school to institute comprehensive policies that “take assertive stances against racism on campus,” and reevaluate the culture the school desired to represent the school’s brand.
Some students spoke out individually like Kaylyn Walker, who serves as a senator with the LBC and as the vice chair of social justice for the Missouri Students Association. She said, “Mizzou continues to protect its racist students day after day. … They claim her statement wasn’t ‘directed’ at a student but it absolutely was directed towards the Black community and was very threatening speech.”
One columnist at the school’s newspaper said that Miller’s post “follows increasingly brazen public displays of white-supremacist propaganda and hate speech on the MU campus.”
When students returned to school in the fall, there were allegedly a number of white supremacist flyers circulated on the campus. The school was swift to condemn that collateral but acknowledged, “While posting the flyers may not violate university policies on free speech, it is important to acknowledge that the flyers display messages of hate, which have been associated with a history of racist violence in the U.S.”
President Choi said he is committed to bringing people in the school together and said in his letter to the Mizzou community, the school “welcomes individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Our university community will not be defined by the actions of one individual, but instead by our deep and collective commitment to be welcoming to all.”
The note concluded with the president sharing his email address and inviting those who want to talk about ways to create a “more inclusive environment” at the university.