In the wake of allegations by The Tiger Newspaper and other media outlets that the Clemson University “Harambe Ban” was some sort of hoax, the controversy needs clarification. The Tiger Newspaper even contradicts itself in its latest issue, with one article titled “Clemson Never Had a Ban on Harambe Memes” and another titled “‘Ban’ of the Harambe meme in Shoeboxes causes first amendment controversy.”
On Friday, September 23rd, a Clemson Administrator contacted RAs with specific instructions to remove any Harambe references on the outside of doors and the inside of windows. This “Harambe Ban” constituted any materials visible from public areas.
The Administrator email states verbatim, “Due to an incident that happened earlier this week, we are no longer allowing any reference to Harambe (or any other spelling) to be displayed on doors, halls, billboards, or windows. Essentially, Harambe should not be displayed in a public place or a place that is viewed by the public.” As the email states, the policy was mandated to go into effect on Friday, September 30th. If this doesn’t constitute a Harambe Ban, what does?
In a follow-up email sent by an anonymous source, Brooks Artis, the Graduate Community Director of the Shoeboxes Dorm, confirmed that the policy was legitimate. Brooks explains, “There was a report from an individual about a meme being offensive and bias in nature and as a result all Harambe references are no longer allowed within our community.” In addition, Brooks stated “My hopes are that you are being inclusive in your words, whichever you choose to say, so that you are not reported to OCES or Title IX for using bias language against someone.”
When these emails were leaked to the press by First Amendment watchdog, WeRoar, all hell broke loose. Eventually, the story wound up in a high-profile piece on Fox News. Seeing a Public Relations nightmare, the Clemson Administration immediately backpedaled. Robby Denny, the Director of Media Relations, told USA TODAY College, “The original message that went to RAs and students in one residence area that prompted the story that has been picked up and reported by multiple media was sent in error.”
No doubt. Of course it was sent in error.
The facts are laid bare before us. Clemson Administrators sought to infringe upon the rights of Clemson students. In service of that aim, a Community Director attempted to use the specter of Clemson disciplinary procedures and federal amendments dealing with sexual harassment and violence to force students to stop venerating a deceased gorilla. When questioned on this policy, the Clemson Administration immediately capitulated and removed the ban.
As we learned previously in the CUSG Senate Dabo Swinney controversy, in order for change to happen, issues must be exposed to the public eye. In both instances, all it took for reform was for the press to make a stand. Let these events be monuments to the defense of free speech at Clemson University.