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Free speech expert calls planned MSU whiteboard ban an ‘overreaction’

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Michigan State University will be banning students from hanging whiteboards outside doors in residence halls.

Michigan State University will ban students from hanging whiteboards outside doors in residence halls starting this fall in an effort to prevent bullying.

Kat Cooper, MSU’s director of communications for residential and hospitality services, said in an interview with The Detroit News there have been several incidents were negative messages were written on whiteboards and there was no specific incident that brought about the ban.

“Sometimes these things are racial, sometimes they’re sexual in nature. There are all sorts of things that happen,” Cooper said in the interview.

One MSU black student has reported that the N-word was written on her residence hall door whiteboard, according to a Lansing NAACP Facebook page.

Roy Gutterman, the director of the Tully Center for Free Speech and an associate professor of newspaper and online journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, said he does not think the ban at MSU was necessary.

“This Michigan State ban seems like a vast overreaction to something that may or may not be a problem,” Gutterman said, adding that he could see potential problems stemming from the whiteboard ban. “What’s the university going to do? Are they going to be bringing people up on student code violations for having a whiteboard on their dorm room door?”

MSU officials said they have not finalized how the university will be enforcing the ban, according to The Detroit News. Cooper told the newspaper that residential advisers may play a role in making sure students don’t hang whiteboards on their doors.

Cooper told The Detroit News that students are still allowed to have whiteboards in their dorm rooms, but can’t hang them on their doors.

“I think there’s certainly a free speech implication of this policy,” Gutterman said. “Even beyond free speech, it’s a mere communication issue. Regardless of the advances in technology and social media and cellular phones, there’s still a viable communicative purpose with a whiteboard on a door.”

Jason Cody, the senior media communications manager at MSU, told The Washington Post that whiteboards are no longer necessary for college students to use.

Cooper said the university is not going to take down whiteboards that are already up on the door because they are “personal, private property of students living in the rooms,” according to The Detroit News.

Gutterman said he feels bad for those who have had hurtful messages written on their whiteboards.

“The university is trying to look out for the feelings of their students, and I think that they’re doing so in a manner that’s probably a little excessive,” Gutterman said.

Gutterman said he could see this happening at colleges around the country.

“I’m hoping here at Syracuse we have enough of a culture of free expression and tolerance that we wouldn’t need to have this kind of policy,” Gutterman said. “But nowadays, I could see policies like this being implemented all over the place.”

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