A conservative campus group at Emerson College has been suspended and several students are under investigation for handing out stickers critical of the Chinese government, according to a new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
FIRE reported that a campus chapter of Turning Point USA was suspended on October 1, just days after the group passed out stickers that said “CHINA KINDA SUS,” and the same day that group leaders were notified that they were under investigation for violating the college’s community guidelines. The stickers also featured a hammer and sickle, implying that the group was suspicious of China’s communist government.
In a letter to Interim President William Gilligan, FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh wrote, “FIRE is concerned by Emerson College’s suspension, investigation, and initiation of misconduct charges against a student organization and its members due to its distribution of stickers critical of the government of the People’s Republic of China.”
“Criticism of governments is core political expression protected by principles of free expression that Emerson pledges to uphold,” the letter continued. It should be noted that Emerson is a private school, so First Amendment concerns do not pertain to this particular incident.
In response to a request for comment from The Daily Wire, Michelle Gaseau, Director of Media Relations and Communications for Emerson College, said, “The college takes these matters seriously, and is addressing reports of the events on campus last week.”
She also pointed to President Gilligan’s statement on the matter where he condemned bigotry against Asians and said the college would begin an investigation into the reports about stickers with “anti-Chinese messaging.”
FIRE obtained several emails it says came from the school documenting its response to the incident.
A day after the students handed out the stickers, Emerson’s International Student Affairs team sent out an email consoling foreign students about the incident. The group said that the stickers “expressed anti-China hate” and that they stood with Asian students “to denounce the use of free speech platforms for statements that are used as xenophobic weapons.”
The team also mentioned that it was reviewing the incident for potential violations of the school’s Code of Community Standards.
Responding to the outrage, TPUSA Emerson posted a video to Instagram explaining that “the sticker intends to criticize the Chinese government,” clarifying, “it has nothing to do with Asian ethnicity or Asian culture.”
The video was captioned, “The mob didn’t like our sticker, we don’t like the mob.”
“Multiple administrators at Emerson College released statements assigning racist malice to our ‘China Kinda Sus’ stickers without speaking with us first,” the caption continued.
According to FIRE, on October 1, the leaders of the group received an email from Julia Rothhaar-Sanders, Emerson Director of Community Standards, telling them that they were under investigation for “bias related behavior” and “invasion of privacy.” It also told them that the group would be placed under “interim action,” meaning that they would not be able to hold events on campus while the investigation was ongoing. A meeting with the group leaders will be scheduled to discuss the incident.
“If anything is ‘kinda sus,’ it’s Emerson’s overblown response to the stickers,” Steinbaugh said, “Emerson must make this right by immediately dropping the investigation and affirming that criticism of a foreign government is not discriminatory harassment.”