Student Column Triggers Vandalism, Threats & Termination from Competing Campus Paper

Before 2 a.m. last Friday, four young women entered an apartment complex near the University of Michigan.

Once inside, the anonymous quartet quickly donned oversized hoodies and proceeded to leave eggs, gum, uncooked hot dogs, a picture of the devil and handwritten notes containing vulgar asides and threats at the doorway of a UM student who wrote a campus newspaper column they apparently didn’t like. They then took photos of their handiwork and fled the scene.

College Fix calls the incident a hate crime.

The vandals’ hatred has been linked to a column appearing last month in The Michigan Review, UM’s conservative student newspaper. Written by UM student Omar Mahmood, the satirical piece mocks what Mahmood sees as political correctness run amok — from gender-normative language and trigger warnings to race-baiting and overzealous feminism.

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Headlined “Do the Left Thing,” it lays out the faux/overblown challenges of a left-handed racial minority in a right-handed white world — spelling it left-handyd (a play on the call in some circles to replace ‘woman’ with ‘womyn’).

As a portion of the column cheekily contends:

“Yes, our president might be left-handyd. But that does not represent the pathetic living conditions of so many left-handyd people around the world, and even here in the United States, who are constantly threatened simply because they write or eat with a different hand. Even today, left-handyd individu@ls are paid 68 cents to the dollar that right-handed individuals are paid. It is 2014, people. Still, change starts with awareness. Until right-handed people, especially cis-gendered hetero white males in salmon shorts, do not start checking their privilege, we will continue to live in inequality.”

The response to the column has been nothing short of combustible. Mahmood had been contributing to both the Review and The Michigan Daily. Yet, after “Do the Left Thing” came out, the Daily canned him.

According to Reason.com, “A staffer at the Daily who saw the piece was furious … and complained to editors. One of Mahmood’s bosses at the Daily told him that article — which ran in the Review, remember — created a hostile work environment and made the staffer feel ‘threatened.’ Mahmood was asked to apologize, which he refused to do. Daily editors dug up the paper’s bylaws and found a provision that forbids students to work for both papers without prior permission from the editor-in-chief. He was told to resign from the Review immediately. After he failed to do so, he was sent a termination letter.”

Daily editor-in-chief Jennifer Calfas released a statement earlier this week to The Huffington Post. In it, she clarifies the column’s content was only part of the trigger for termination. Mahmood also apparently broke paper protocol by discussing his situation with outside media. Hmm.

A portion of the statement: “The way in which the author satirically mocked the experiences of fellow Daily contributors and minority communities on campus in his Review column violated our values and integrity as a publication. His actions created a conflict of interest regarding his employment with both the Daily and the Review. … [H]e later took his version of the story to The College Fix and The Daily Caller. … While the Daily respects the free speech rights of members of the campus community, our bylaws do not allow writers to discuss the internal politics and governance of the Daily in external publications while remaining part of the Daily staff.”

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Susan Kruth at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE): “Of course, independent student newspapers like the Daily are not bound by the First Amendment, but students who value unfettered debate and free expression do not punish peers for saying or writing things with which they disagree. Instead of forcing Mahmood to choose between writing satire and reporting for the Daily, any editor who was offended by his column should have offered his or her own counterpoint to Mahmood.”

The vandalism counterpoint, by the way, was partially captured on security cameras and reported to police. It is now being investigated.

Among the notes left by the women at Mahmood’s doorway: “You scum embarrass us. … You self-righteous dick. … You have no soul. … Everyone hates you you violent prick.” In addition, according to College Fix, “One of the images found at [Mahmood’s] door was a picture of him taken from his Facebook profile with his eyes X’d out and the words ‘dickhead’ and ‘you aint shit.'”

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