Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 4, 2023

It disturbs us to learn that the Office of Residential Life might be engaging in censorial activities with regard to dormitory flyering. These ads are deemed to contain inappropriate content. Of course, this is not a free speech issue (in the constitutional sense) and the administration has the right to ban material that is genuinely offensive and demeaning. Last year when the Objectivist Club insultingly posted the controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad, that certainly warranted the exclusion of the posters from the dorms.

However, other situations have arisen in relation to campus comedy groups that concern us. Recently, the Buttered Niblets attempt to advertise their play Sex a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs was rebuffed by ResLife. Last October, the HOP experienced similar treatment for a flyer promoting the event "Laff Your Ass Off." Such language should hardly give pause to the 18-20-year-olds who reside in the dorms.

Not only are ResLife's decisions in regard to appropriateness questionable, but also such subjective rulings are made by a single individual, ResLife's director Shelly Fickau. When one person is the arbiter of what is acceptable and unacceptable for students' eyes, fairness and consistency are nearly impossible to achieve.

When questioned about the ResLife sponsored Condom Bingo, Fickau distinguished between programs that are educational in nature as opposed to those that constitute entertainment. We find such a distinction dubious if not altogether arbitrary. Whether a program is intended to enlighten or delight is irrelevant when deciding what advertisement is appropriate to post. In additional, it is laughable to imply that the organizers of Condom Bingo intended it to be completely devoid of entertainment value.

We suggest that in order to prevent unreasonable exclusion of student flyers, the University's perspective on what content is offensive or vulgar be made explicit. While there is an existing policy available online and in the academic manual, content that is intolerable is not clearly stated. Instead, the policy refers to "pornographic," "harassing" or threatening material. How the Buttered Niblets' or the HOP's flyers could fit within that description is beyond the understanding of we mortals.

While we understand that it is difficult to demarcate what is acceptable and what is not, a clearer policy should be developed. Any disagreement will thenceforth concern the policy itself and not its application. We also recommend that student groups have an opportunity to appeal decisions by the ResLife office if they are not content with the ruling.

Censorship, particularly on questionable moral grounds, is something the University should strive to avoid. Students should be consulted in drafting a new set of regulations that more completely reflect the maturity of a college campus. We need not fear sexual language; indeed to do so seems the most egregious folly.


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