Dear Colgate Community,
Yesterday, the University learned of a racist TikTok video that was posted by an incoming first-year student and widely shared on Instagram. We have also since learned of another disturbing video, apparently posted by two current students.
We immediately started an investigation into the TikTok posting, and considered both its message and its potential impact. As a result of this review and consistent with both our processes and our principles, the University has revoked our offer of admission to the individual in question, who will not be joining our community in the fall.
The University is also now investigating the second video and those who posted it. We will share the outcome of those processes once concluded to the extent allowable under the laws in place to protect student privacy.
Now, in these all-too-frequent moments when students post offensive videos or statements on social media platforms and the University seeks to act to address these messages, people raise concerns about freedom of speech. I have two responses to that concern.
The first is that I, a member of this community, have my own right to voice my opinions. So I will.
I want to point out that the level of ignorance shown in these videos is appalling. In a time when we have seen people across the world rightfully outraged by the recent killings of George Floyd and countless other black men and women and we see nearly every institution in the country looking at the nature and effect of systemic racism, these videos evince a level of cruelty that is staggering.
Secondly, we at Colgate are committed to the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom. However, I want to clearly point out that speech is not without consequences, and we as a University community have discussed the consequences of hateful speech. As the University’s adopted statement in support of academic freedom and freedom of expression states,
As a community, we must be mindful that the exercise of intellectual freedom without consideration of these other values can and does cause harm to others, and these harms often linger long after the harmful words have been spoken. Freedom of expression that is unconstrained by a spirit of toleration and a sensitivity to the views and backgrounds of others can cause needless damage to our community. At times, expressions of free speech, even when exercised in all fairness of spirit, can hurt others, particularly over matters about which we care deeply but differ sharply. The Task Force encourages all members of our community to recognize that expressions can carry different weights depending on both who says and who receives them, resulting in potentially disparate effects on different members of our community.
The University Statement on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression can be found here.
The University’s Equity and Grievance Policy can be found here.
I ask every member of this community, including those who will formally join us as students this fall, to carefully study the information found in these links. One — the statement on academic freedom and freedom of expression — sets forth our commitment to discourse but also to the values and needs of this community and its members. The second sets forth the process available to us all when this community or any of its members are harmed.
When faced with a combination of ignorance and cruelty, know what this community values and how we support and defend those values.
I am sorry that this email had to be sent.
Brian W. Casey