Delta State University, a public university in Mississippi, has a policy that states that students can be expelled if they “inflict mental or emotional distress on others.”
Policy 27 of the school’s “student regulations” declares that “words, behavior, and/or actions which inflict mental or emotional distress on others and/or disrupt the educational environment at Delta State University” could “subject violators to appropriate disciplinary action, including suspension and expulsion.”
“Any student charged with or convicted of a violation of . . . University regulation, injurious to the health and welfare of the University community shall be subject to immediate administrative suspension, with or without prejudice, depending upon the nature and circumstances of the case by the President of the University or his delegate,” the policy states.
Zakiya Summers, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union, told The College Fix that the organization has concerns the policy might not be constitutional.
“In addition to Policy 27, Policies 4, 16, and 18 raise First Amendment concerns,” Summers told the Fix. “They are over-broad and vague and could restrict protected speech.”
As the Fix notes, the additional policies that Summers named ban “disorderly, lewd, indecent, or obscene conduct or language,” “inciting others to violate written University policies and regulations,” and participation in an “unauthorized demonstration.”
Now, I’m not a lawyer. Personally, I can’t say whether or not any of these policies violate the Constitution. What I can say, however, is that policy 27 definitely raises some practical concerns.
Think about it: There are plenty of ways that one student could potentially “inflict mental or emotional distress” on another without having done anything wrong. Breaking up with someone is the first thing that comes to mind, although it could technically be something as simple as one student getting the last bag of Doritos from the vending machine when the student behind him was craving those flavorful tortilla chips. Of course, I’m not saying that the school necessarily would punish the distress-causing student in these scenarios — let’s hope to God that it wouldn’t — but the truth is, this policy would allow it to, and that’s scary enough.
If a student is causing emotional distress to another student by, say, abusing him or her, then I could see how that would be grounds for punishment. The problem with policy 27 is that the standard in question is not even the behavior of the person causing the distress. No . . . the standard is that the person who is experiencing distress is, well, distressed. Taken as written, this policy could subject a student to expulsion for having done nothing wrong at all — and if that’s not frightening, then I don’t know what is.