School officials at Syracuse University in New York have determined a friendly, and voluntary, scavenger hunt organized for orientation leaders actually was “hazing,” and have derailed the academic career of the volunteer who set it up.
It is the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression that said it has written a letter to the school, already known for its speech violations, on behalf of student Orientation Leader Eriendeep Uppal, who made the mistake of organizing the event for other OLs.
“The Syracuse University Orange is one of the few athletic programs named after a color, personified by the bright, cheery Otto the Orange mascot. But when it comes to free speech, this university is closer to the bleak hellscape of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ than its exuberant, fruity mascot. This time, Syracuse suspended a student for hosting a campus scavenger hunt,” the FIRE reported.
“In August, student Orientation Leader Eriendeep Uppal helped organize an optional campus scavenger hunt for fellow OLs, awarding points to those who dared lick the Abraham Lincoln statue, barrel-roll down the Carnegie steps, or kiss an orientation leader on Syracuse’s famous Kissing Bench. This camaraderie-building exercise was a brief, fun respite for the OL team as they worked hard to help incoming students move into their dorms, to answer questions from families about campus life, and to coordinate events to help acclimate students to college life,” the organization reported.
“While her fellow OLs thoroughly enjoyed the experience, Syracuse administrators — apparently allergic to all things joyous and merry — inexplicably charged Uppal with hazing and ‘threaten[ing] the mental health’ of others,” the report said.
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But, The FIRE noted, “among more than 50 students Syracuse interviewed about the event, administrators found no one physically or mentally harmed by the activity. One student even testified how much she ‘enjoyed her experience participating in the [scavenger hunt] activity, including kissing another OL (who she knew) on the mouth on the kissing bench.’ Students affirmed that at no point did they feel pressured, compelled, or forced to partake in the scavenger hunt or any of its tasks, which were completely voluntary.”
The FIRE noted in its letter to the school, objecting to its totalitarian agenda, that the school has a “clear, written, public commitment” to students’ free speech.
Yet it also noted the school’s receipt of the organization’s 2021 “Lifetime Censorship Award” for its awful record on free speech.
In this case, the report said, “Syracuse alleged ‘the task where OL’s were asked to kiss another OL on the mouth on the ‘Kissing Bench’ creates an environment where some OLs may feel peer pressure resulting in emotional trauma or confusion,’ because ‘[k]issing someone is a personal decision which should not be influenced by other individuals or a group.’”
The school claimed the hunt could “lead to sickness, or hospitalization, and fractures or broken bones.”
The fact that Uppal listed various activities “caused a substantial risk to the mental and physical health of the fellow OLs,” the school claimed.
The school then suspended Uppal until the 2023 summer term, demanding she do community service and create an “anti-hazing” program.
FIRE reported, “In what world is merely listing optional scavenger hunt activities considered hazing? Also, why are university administrators instructing adult college students about proper kissing etiquette? What year is this?”
It explained, “Over the years, Syracuse has earned its dystopian reputation for free speech, punishing students for parody blogs, satirical skits, Halloween costumes, Facebook comments, sharp questions, words they didn’t say, and now, scavenger hunts.”
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