Student’s ‘Open Letter to Obnoxious Girls’ Blog Post Sparks Expulsion Threat, Free Speech Debate

“An Open Letter to Obnoxious Girls” has caused quite a free speech and free press fracas at the University of Central Oklahoma.  UCO officials recently forced journalism student Olanrewaju Suleiman to remove a post she wrote as part of her “Blogging for Journalists” class under the threat of expulsion.

As the Student Press Law Center and The Oklahoman report, first Suleiman apologized, then school officials did.

The post’s full title: “An Open Letter to Obnoxious Girls: Stupidity Isn’t Cute!”  As the Oklahoman reports about its content, “In the post, Suleiman says ‘there are these three girls I know’ who ‘act like complete idiots.’  The post doesn’t name the girls, but describes the way they speak, such as saying ‘presh’ to mean ‘precious’ or ‘ridic’ in place of ‘ridiculous.’  ‘If you’re ‘husband searching,’ keep that to yourself,’ Suleiman wrote on her personal blog.  ‘I’m pretty sure there are a good chunk of people that want to strangle you into silence.'”

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The SPLC’s Sara Tirrito laid out what Suleiman said happened next: “[S]he was called in to a meeting with her professor and the chairwoman of the department of mass communications.  Suleiman said she was told she had ruined her journalism career, and was threatened with expulsion until she began to cry.  Then she was told she wouldn’t be expelled if she deleted the post and apologized to those who were upset by it.”

Does her post contain actual harassment of any sort or other material that would make it suitable for deletion?

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SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte: “I can’t imagine how hurting the feelings of your classmates would rise to that level.  Especially at a college when you’re dealing with adults.”

By contrast, The Oklahoma Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma, does declare it to be bullying in an editorial: “Suleiman’s post improperly degraded students she thought acted dumb– this is intellectual bullying based on her perceptions of the womens’ behavior.  It is clear by the language in her post Suleiman was not directly threatening the women in her class, but she did attempt to shame her classmates in a public forum. . . . Suleiman’s comments talking about physical violence crossed the line.  Bullying, in any form, cannot be tolerated from any student.”

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