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Criticisms by Georgia Southern student of #BlackLivesMatter go viral. Was backlash deserved?

A Georgia Southern University student is learning free speech does not mean you are free from the consequences of what you say, especially on social media where a controversial comment travels at a rapid clip. Her Facebook comments ignited angry online responses and a student walkout on campus.

Student Emily Faz blasted the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which is gathering momentum on college campuses across the country. She also criticized the religion of Islam in the wake of the Paris bombings.

Here is what she wrote:

“I’m going to leave this here. I swear if I see this BS at Southern, I’ll make you regret even knowing what a movement or hashtag is, and you’ll walk away with your tail tucked. This whole black lives matter movement is misguided and out of hand. Maybe no one likes or takes y’all seriously because no one can see past your egotistical bullshit. Some people might just look past it, but fair warning I’m not one. All lives matter, that has always been the case, and you are part of the problem if you think otherwise.”

“This infuriates me. Anyone who defends this religion and it’s followers can take a long walk of a pier. This is sickening, all these innocent lives lost. People can’t even enjoy their Friday night without being scared to lose their life in a terror attack, and guess who did it this time, yeah huge shocker….”

The Georgia Southern newspaper, the George-Anne , reports the fallout came quickly:

On Monday, two Facebook statuses written by a Georgia Southern University student went viral across social media.

Jonathan Chiza was one of the first to post screenshots of these statements to Twitter. His post gathered 178 retweets. “When I first saw it, I saw it in a groupme and I was like ‘Wow.’  I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was really a Georgia Southern student.  I felt offended with the Black lives matter, but I was more offended about what she said about the Muslims because my best friend growing up was Muslim, so I was like why not let the whole twitter find out.  So that’s why I said ‘Black GSU, what do you think about this?’ I wanted to make sure that I was not rushing to an opinion, because I felt it was a little bit threatening, so I wanted to see how others felt,” Jonathan Chiza, junior information systems major, said.

Many students voiced their opinions, either validating the ideologies of the posts underneath freedom of speech or strongly opposing them. Other students like Chiza, looked at the statuses as a threat to the safety of the Black and Muslim communities at Georgia Southern.

The posting led to a walkout Tuesday by  student members of the Georgia Southern University NAACP chapter. One of the walkout organizers said, "This is not necessarily in response to the comments the young lady made; it's to show that the black student population does matter."

Also on Tuesday, Jean E. Bartels, the interim president of GSU, issued a statement . Here is an excerpt:

Yesterday, a posting by a student on social media resulted in increased conversation among students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff on the issue of race in our community. Much of this conversation has been civil, constructive, and in keeping with behavior one would expect from educated individuals attempting to engage in productive discourse about a difficult issue.

With the increased communication of the past 24 hours, some speech (including the original post) has resulted in a call for disciplinary action against the speaker. Please know that this University takes threats very seriously and will not tolerate behavior that is in violation of our Student Code of Conduct or the laws of the State of Georgia. Know also that Georgia Southern University is a public institution and a government agency. As a result, Georgia Southern is not permitted to restrict speech that is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. All speech that is reported as a potential violation of the Code of Conduct is evaluated under these Constitutional standards and handled appropriately. In addition, the University is subject to laws regarding the privacy of student education records. Disciplinary records are protected items. As a result, the University generally is not able to share information regarding charges, outcome, or any other details of any individual student’s case without that student’s permission.

There are unsubstantiated reports Faz lost a local waitress job because of what she wrote, promoting some folks to jump to her defense, saying she is protected under the First Amendment. Yes, the First Amendment gives her the right to criticize but it does not shield her from criticism for what she said.

Colleges ought to encourage open dialogue and discussion but language like “I’ll make you regret…” and “you’ll walk away with your tail tucked” are not a free exchange of ideas; they are threatening and demeaning.

I know some of you will disagree. Feel free.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.