Mar 27, 2024 - News

VCU one of the top campuses in the country for free speech, advocacy group says

Illustration of a speech balloon with a lock inside it, which unlocks.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

VCU is one of the top campuses in the nation for free speech, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a nonpartisan civil liberties advocacy group.

Why it matters: VCU's top "green light" rating comes as colleges continue to grapple with how to respond to the Israel-Hamas war for fear of angering students, faculty, donors and alumni.

The big picture: Each year, FIRE reviews nearly 500 colleges and universities on their policies related to student speech and expression, rating them green, yellow or red.

Context: Green light schools have no known written policies that threaten student speech, per FIRE.

  • Yellow light indicates policy language that is vague enough that it could be misconstrued and used to restrict expression.
  • Red means policies that clearly restrict speech.

Zoom in: VCU started working to upgrade its rating in 2018 when it had six "yellow light" policies, per the university, including ones related to dorm room decorations, student conduct and sexual harassment.

  • It quickly updated all but its sexual harassment policy, which the school needed more time to review.
  • VCU worked with FIRE in the fall to revisit it, finding that its policy was too broad to be useful. For example, a single instance of mocking or name calling could previously be construed as sexual harassment.
  • Now, the policy makes it clear that the behavior must be "severe, pervasive and objectively offensive" to be a violation.

Fun fact: VCU's ranking makes it one five in Virginia and of 64 schools in the nation to earn FIRE's top "green light" rating.

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