A student at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., is claiming that his classmates received a letter from some of the residents in their dorm, Century Hall, demanding that the students take down a “Trump/Pence” flag displayed in their window on the grounds that it constitutes “harassment.”
“This may not matter to you,” explains the letter, a photo of which was sent via e-mail to National Review by a senior who asked to remain anonymous “for professional reasons.”
The letter continues:
“You may in fact be a proud racist, misogynist, homophobe, etc. . . . However, in the days since his election, hundreds of hate crimes have been committed in the name of the president-elect. . . . We are writing this letter anonymously because we are afraid you yourself will engage in this behavior. . . . While we cannot ask you not to support the president-elect, as is your right, we are well within our rights to ask that you cease creating a hostile environment for your fellow students.”
The authors of the letter assert that they “believe [the flag] constitutes harassment, and therefore violates the University’s Code of Conduct,” before citing the university’s official definition of harassment as evidence:
“Any behavior (verbal, written, or physical) that abuses, assails, intimidates, demeans, victimizes, or has the effect of creating a hostile environment for any person.”
Now, according to the students who wrote the letter, flying a flag in support of Trump amounts to “creating a hostile environment for every student of color, every Muslim student, every female student, every transgender student, every gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual student, every student who is the child of immigrants, every student with disabilities, and every student that stands with them,” but that’s something that I have a hard time believing. After all, I’m pretty sure that there is at least one female student somewhere on that campus who would be able to see that flag and go about her day without feeling like it had created a “hostile environment” for her.
But here’s the thing: We don’t even have to argue over whether or not that’s true, because according to the university’s own definition, all it takes is for “any person” — that is, one person — to feel that something creates a “hostile environment” in order for it to qualify as “harassment.” Just one student has to feel upset, which means that the very existence of such a letter automatically means that the student writing it is correct.
Should all interactions at St. John’s University just devolve into an impossible-to-win victim-off, with students alternately hurling harassment accusations at each other?
In a news cycle full of extreme reactions to Donald Trump’s win, the fact that a group of kids wrote a letter calling a “Trump/Pence” flag “harassment” might seem like small potatoes. But the most troubling thing about this story isn’t even the students’ harassment allegation in itself, it’s that, according to school policy, those students are technically right — and that, according to St. John’s definition of “harassment,” even the most innocuous of dorm decorations could run the risk of violating the school’s Code of Conduct. For example: Say a student in Century Hall has a boyfriend who decorated her dorm-room door for her birthday. A display like that could certainly have “the effect of creating a hostile environment” for someone who had just gotten into an upsetting fight with her boyfriend about how he forgot her birthday. According to the school’s definition, all that girl would have to do is claim that the decorations “had the effect of creating a hostile environment” for her in order for that cute little “Happy Birthday!” door to qualify as a violation.
Ironically enough, that letter deeming the “Trump/Pence” flag “harassment” could also be considered harassment, if even one of the students who received it felt it created a hostile environment for him. Certainly, knowing that you have dorm-mates who are so worried that you might be such a vile, racist homophobe that you are going to start violently attacking them in the name of your racism and homophobia might have this kind of effect, and all you’d have to do is claim that it did in order for those students to be guilty of harassment as well.
#related#So, should the students who received the letter just claim that they feel harassed by it? Should all interactions at St. John’s University just devolve into an impossible-to-win victim-off, with students alternately hurling harassment accusations at each other? With a policy devoid of objectivity, where the only standard for violation is a single student’s feelings, this is not an impossible scenario.
Thankfully, however, there are at least some students on campus who feel that they can handle their own uncomfortable feelings without needing to invoke harassment accusations: According to National Review’s student source, the residents of the room in question have decided to keep the flag up despite the letter, and without writing an accusation letter of their own.
Note: This is not the first time something like this has happened at St. John’s; it’s the same school where a student threatened to smash another student’s computer because it had a “Make America Great Again” sticker on it.