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Free speech, Harry Vincent and TCU: His full appeal speech

By Christina GeyerAugust 6, 2015

Texas Christian University
Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas Smads07/Flickr Creative Commons

Late last month, a story broke about 19-year-old Texas Christian University student Harry Vincent, who claimed he was unfairly disciplined by TCU after posting what could be seen as racially offensive statements on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. Vincent's social-media statements garnered attention in April, when a Tumblr page published screenshots of his now-deleted, social-media posts, accusing him of being "racist" and "disgusting."

In a letter dated May 8, 2015, Glory Z. Robinson, TCU's associate dean of student life, outlined Vincent's "violation of the Code of Student Conduct" and the terms of his probation. Vincent appealed the university's decision, and TCU denied his appeal after a July 16 hearing.

On Wednesday, July 29, TCU released the following statement regarding its disciplinary action: 

"Texas Christian University's mission is to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community. We are always disappointed when any member of our community fails to behave in a way that aligns with our mission. When students to not live up to these values and are alleged to have violated the Code of Student Conduct, they are subject to a University disciplinary process, which may result in suspension or expulsion."

Much has been said about this story: What does it mean for free-speech rights on private university campuses? Does the extent of the disciplinary action match the student-conduct violation? Did Vincent, who has since re-activated his Twitter account, use social media in an appropriate manner, or rather, in a way that was viable of punishment? At what point does political correctness trump self expression and vice versa?

Update: According to Fox News, TCU lessened Harry Vincent's probation from four years to one year. 

I reached out to Vincent for comment, and he sent his full appeal speech, below, which he says he made during the July 16 appeal hearing. 

I, Harry Vincent, an American citizen, registered voter, and personal freedom activist, understand that I am entitled to certain rights by the United States Constitution, one of these rights, quite possibly the most important, is freedom of speech and expression. America is a country created by immigrants from all different backgrounds and nationalities, which is why free speech is such an important aspect of our foundation. It unifies us as nation while allowing each person to hold and express his or her own beliefs and opinions.

Because TCU is a private institution, I realize that you have the power and ability to punish students in the way you see fit. I made the choice to speak at this appeal hearing today because I strongly disagree with Dean Robinson’s punishment decision that can be found in the informal review. Not only was my punishment was far too harsh, but I believe that TCU is unjustly punishing me for exercising, as our founding fathers put it, my “God given rights.” It is my sincerest hope that the panel convened will listen to my perspective, ask questions, and ultimately come to their own conclusion on the matter.

 On April 29th, I received an email alleging that I had violated the University code of Student Conduct. I was accused of “Infliction of Bodily Harm” and “Disorderly Conduct”. Although you may have already gone over what actions and behaviors TCU considers to fall under these two violations, I feel it is important to go over them once more. 

Section 3.2.1 Infliction of bodily or emotional harm STATES:

Infliction or threat of infliction of bodily or emotional harm, whether done intentionally or otherwise, and including the threat of, or action taken in, retaliation for reporting allegations of student misconduct. Examples of prohibited behavior under this Section include, but are not limited to: assault, sexual misconduct (which includes all non-consensual sexual contact, sexual assault, sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, stalking and any other conduct of a sexual nature, undertaken without mutual consent or which has the purpose or effect of threatening or intimidating a person), verbal harassment, bullying, stalking, relationship violence, dating violence, hate crimes, and biased related incidents. 

Sexual misconduct is a particularly grievous offense and may result in suspension or expulsion. 

After reading the explanation of these offenses, the only one I could see somewhat relating to my case was “verbal harassment”. defines verbal harassment as “the excessive use of language to undermine someone's dignity and security through insults or humiliation, in a sudden or repeated manner.” 

Looking over my statements on twitter, I do not believe that I was involved in verbal harassment. I did make the decision to call an acquaintance of mine a word that was inappropriate but I in no way verbally harassed her. This was also a one-time occurrence and I did not repeatedly tweet at her or about her. Section 3.2.1 also states that Sexual misconduct is a particularly grievous offense and may result in suspension or expulsion. Since my punishment has been that of suspension, I am led to believe that not only are my tweets “a particularly grievous offense”, but they are on the same level of non-consensual sexual violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. I realize my actions on social media were wrong and inappropriate, however there is absolutely no comparison of my tweets to rape or a sexual crime, and I believe that the TCU administration is unjustly categorizing my offense and inflicting a much harsher punishment than necessary. If my social media presence is in fact considered to be verbal harassment and calls for grounds to suspend, I believe there are many more students that attend TCU that deserve suspension as well. As a lifeguard, I often see people break pool rules that are in place to preserve a safe environment, when someone breaks a rule and enters unsafe waters, should I as a lifeguard allow them to drown or worse, assist them to the bottom of the pool to make an example of their rule breaking and carelessness, or should I save that person and teach them to swim so the incident wont happen again? The answer seems obvious, as a lifeguard, I would save the patron and use the rule breaking as a teachable moment. From this experience, it seems to me that TCU would let me drown in order to make an example out of me.

I will now read section 3.2.13 - Disorderly conduct

Any conduct that is considered inappropriate and/or inconsistent with the University’s mission, vision, or core values. Disorderly conduct may include, but is not limited to the following: contemptuous or disrespectful behavior, lewd, indecent, or obscene conduct, disrespectful online presence and/or any conduct that interferes with or obstructs University authorized activities. 

Any individual who witnesses or has knowledge of behaviors that violate the Code and/or federal, state, or local law and fails to act in accordance with the University’s mission, vision and values, is considered in violation of Disorderly Conduct

After reading over the description of disorderly conduct, I agree that I did allow myself to have a disrespectful online presence, but my presence was not inconsistent with the Universities mission or Core values. My friend and fellow TCU student, Annabel Scott, has been by my side through this entire investigation. She wrote a letter regarding my case to the TCU administration, and I would like to read you an excerpt of her letter that relates to the core values and mission of TCU.

“After learning about Harry’s suspension, I decided to do a little research, and I came across the Mission Statement and Core Values of TCU. While reading over these statements, I couldn’t understand how Harry’s punishment could be correlated with the image that TCU advertises and wants to uphold. The mission statement, "To educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community", holds a lot of promise. So if this is in fact the mission of the university, why did the administration choose to suspend him from all university activities rather than “educate” him how to properly portray his views on social media? Wouldn’t the university, as an institution of learning, want to help him understand his error and help him develop a sense of responsibility for his actions rather than just removing him from campus?

I also took some time to read over the core values stated on the university website: “TCU values academic achievement, personal freedom and integrity, the dignity and respect of the individual, and a heritage of inclusiveness, tolerance and service.” There are a few reasons I believe that TCU cannot stand by or advertise these values as their own after this incident. “Personal freedom” allows a student to voice his opinion on the Baltimore riots. “Personal freedom” allows a student to speak about his view of the religion of Islam and ISIS. “Personal Freedom” allows a student to critique the actions of the President of the United States. “A heritage of tolerance” would include tolerating ALL viewpoints, not just politically correct ones. So if in fact, these were core values of the University, this situation would have been handled in a very different manner. “

Section 3.2.13 also states that anyone who “fails to act in accordance with the University’s mission, vision and values, is considered in violation of Disorderly Conduct.” Since the university is not acting in accordance with their own mission, vision, and values, it would seem that if the code of student conduct were applied to the TCU administration, that they would be as guilty of disorderly conduct as I am. 

I would now like to discuss the way that my tweets were submitted and how they were displayed across the Internet. A twitter follower and a former peer of mine created a tumblr website (which can be found in my appeal package) with the sole intention of recruiting members of the tumblr community to call in and report me to the TCU administration. Not one of the tumblr users who re-blogged the website knew me personally. All these users saw were the few handpicked tweets that were posted to the website. The creator of the website also posted her correspondence with Dean Robinson via email, which showed Dean Robinson thanking the complainant for her communication (this can be found in the appeal package). The display of this email conversation only furthered the encouragement of users to call or write in and report my name. She included the hash tag “Drag Him” and “Expose Racists” in her posting, making her intention to destroy my reputation clear. Not only did her post gain attention, but people began to comment on it. Some suggested I should drown, or drink urine and poison. A few wanted to “see my ass get handed to me” and one even said, “fuck this hoe up”. 

Besides the obvious insults that were thrown at me, there were comments that stated that certain users had already spoken with TCU, and one even mentioned the name of the specific dean that should be spoken to about the situation. Whether or not the TCU administration was aware of this website at the time, they were encouraging and allowing a large online community to bash, tear down, and even threaten a TCU student.

This was not the website of a girl who had been inflicted with emotional harm, but instead it was a website created with the intention to seek revenge upon me and destroy my reputation. The way in which she portrayed the response and names of the TCU administrators allowed her and her community of followers to succeed in “dragging me”. 

As a dedicated student to this university, I find it hard to believe that TCU would want a student to be publicly humiliated in this way, which is why I find it necessary to give some background upon the complainants social media behavior that led up to my inappropriate comment towards her. 

The original complainant’s own tweets (which can be found in the appeal package) on her twitter account are very racially biased against whites. There is rapid racism still alive in our country, and some of that racism is towards whites. I am proud of my heritage and my cultural background, and I bear no shame in my skin color, and because of that, it was hard for me to sit back and allow someone to blatantly bash my culture. The complainant continuously tweeted negative things about white culture, and in particular, many about statements about young men my age.  

Now that I have given you a little background, I would like to discuss each of my individual tweets and posts (which can be found in my appeal package).

I would like to start by stressing that although these tweets could be viewed as offensive, I did not write them with malicious intent or harm. I apologize if they have offended any of you. 
In the two posts I made regarding Baltimore, I never once mentioned race. 

In the first, which was a tweet, I wasn’t speaking of about any specific person or group of people, but rather describing the people and the city of Baltimore as a whole. I don’t understand why Dean Robinson and my accuser conjured a racial image from this tweet. I believe that it is in fact racist of them to assume that these posts were conotated with the black community. Baltimore is very close to my home in Maryland, and I was livid that it in was under attack by rioters, arsonists, and thieves. Not only that, but as an EMT I am close friends with many Baltimore County police officers. My tweet simply meant that because of my personal opinion and experience with the city of Baltimore and the majority people that reside there,  “poor, uneducated, druggy, and hoodrat” come to mind. However, when Dean Robinson hears the words “poor, uneducated, druggy, and hoodrat,” her first instinct was to involve race. Her assumptions of my tweet were incorrect and flat out wrong. There is nothing in the student code of conduct that states that a student isn’t allowed to express their personal opinion on a city or their opinion on the population of people that live in that city. 

The second post regarding Baltimore was on my Facebook page. I simply stated that the criminals that were burning down the city that they called their home needed a reality check. I still stand by the statement that many people in our country do not realize how incredibly lucky they are to live in a country like the US, especially because of the many benefits that the government provides. I never once mentioned race and I never once involved a specific person or group of people directly by name.

The tweet regarding the word beaner is the next I would like to discuss. Coming from the east coast, I had never heard the world beaner before I moved to Texas. I had no idea that it was considered to be so derogatory. My tweet was a quote that a TCU student and friend of mine had said. I, at the time, thought it was funny and didn’t think twice about posting it. I now understand that it was an inappropriate use of social media. Although it was a racially charged comment, it was just a lighthearted joke among friends. I had no intention of inflicting harm upon anyone and I did not direct it at a certain person or group.

My tweet that referred to Kelsey as Islamic shithead was wrong and isnt justifiable, but it is important to understand the background of this tweet so that it isn’t taken out of context. My tweet was a reply to a tweet that stated, “9/11/2001 was the best thing that’s happened to America.” This tweet was deleted almost immediately after my response which is why I don’t have record of it, but I left my tweet up which is why she was able to portray me in a bad light without revealing what my response was motivated by. Although my response was not mature or thought through, I am an avid patriot, and seeing a statement like that made my blood boil. My response was backed by the rage I had for all the families that had lost loved ones in that tragedy, as a good friend of mine lost his grandparents in Shanksville, Pennsylvania that tragic day. Additionally, I have a published oral history interview with an officer who responded to the Pentagon on 9/11, where he graphically describes the gruesome sight and smell of the scene. I allowed my temper to take over and didn’t deal with it in a healthy matter and I am still enraged by the comment that was made about 9/11, but I now know that calling someone names over social media will not solve any issues. 

Lastly, my tweet that included a line “tan as a terrorist” was inappropriate, but never meant with any malice or hatred. It was a joke that was not written towards any person in particular. I do realize how immature and wrong it was to post on social media, and I should have thought it over before posting it. 

Now that I have given explanations for each of my tweets, I feel it is important to understand how common inappropriate language is on social media among people my age. I realize this does not excuse my own use of this language, but it should give some context. Although my words were inappropriate, they’re nothing compared to what some choose to post, including my original complainant. 

If this punishment that I received is applicable for my tweets, then I believe it would follow this would be the standard for all students. I decided to search the word TCU combined with various racial and vulgar slurs, and it is apparent, that as wrong as my tweets may have been, they are no worse than what is being put out there by other TCU Students. I think that this needs to be taken into consideration when deciding the outcome of my appeal. 

Another aspect of this case that I think is important to discuss is due process and how it was followed by the University.
The University did not follow their own guidelines of due process because they did not making every effort to hear the appeal within 30 days of my appeal submission.  

The explanation I was given for the long amount of time between the filing and the actual appeal was that Dean Couzzens was traveling on official TCU business. On the day that I received the letter from Dean Cavin-Tull explaining the business trip Dean Couzzens was supposed to be on, my father called Dean Couzzens office to determine when we would be back at work in order to plan when the appeal would occur.  Upon my father calling the office, he was shocked to find that Dr. Cozzens was in fact in his office in Fort Worth. Due process was followed on my part to meet all of the deadlines for my case. I not only had to balance this case but I also had to focus on studying for my five final exams. My family, who owns a seasonal business, cleared their calendar for 30 days expecting my case would be heard during that time. The University, however, did not hold up its end of the due process timeline that was required of me.  Instead the administration excused their inability to meet their own criteria of due process by providing a misleading statement. 
Because of the extended amount of time it has taken to convene this appeal, I have been left in limbo all summer, unsure if I should look for a job, apply to another university, or wait for my appeal. I have been left feeling a sense of abandonment and unimportance from TCU administrators.

I am young adult that still has a lot of learning to do, which is why I chose to attend a 4-year university as great as TCU. I hope that after the insight and information I have given you today, you will reconsider my punishment. I acknowledge my mistakes and accept responsibility for my actions. I cannot begin to express the knowledge and maturity I have I have gained from this entire experience. I used to post whatever came to my mind on social media without thinking twice. I didn’t realize how my posts could effect future job prospects, future education endeavors, or even my reputation and character. Although I continue to stand by many of the beliefs I posted on my social media pages, I now realize how immature and irresponsible it was for me to voice them in that fashion. I take full responsibility for the tweets and statues I posted and I acknowledge the negative light that they shed on this university. I now realize how important it is to think before posting, because my posts do not only reflect me, but they reflect every organization that I am a part of. I have limited my use of social media significantly since this case became an issue, and if I do decide to post, I put careful thought into it. 

Although I am still somewhat disappointed in the way this case was handled, I am still a proud frog. I still believe that the professors are the best in the country and the student body is energized, creative and motivated. I am willing to work with the administration to further educate not only myself, but the rest of the student body on what is appreciate to post on social media. I believe that I deserve the opportunity to prove myself and my newfound maturity TCU administration. 

In closing, I would like to read psalm 51. This Psalm was written by King David after committing sin:

51 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

Thank you for listening.