A student at Howard University, Jalen Brown, thought that his online discussion with another university student was innocuous, but intellectually honest and non-threatening. But Howard University, located in Washington, D.C., disagreed and kicked him out of the university even after multiple apologies and appeals to be reinstated.
Brown was discussing current events with another student online on the social media platform Twitter in 2019. During the course of the discussion, Brown disagreed with the other student about supporting students who lost scholarships due to bad grades. Brown was in favor of reinstating student scholarships and wrote, “how do you publicly talk down to a group that’s doing their DAMN best to save the future of hundreds of students? harriet shot you n—-s and we’ll do the same.”
Both Brown and the other student are black.
He cited a debunked point about freed slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who reportedly threatened members of her freedom-seeking party with a shot from her firearm if they turned back or ratted them out.
Howard University suspended him, even though he deleted the post a day later when he mulled it over. His pleas at a suspension hearing did not change their decision to expel him. Brown has since transferred to Morehouse College, a historically black college and university (known as an HBCU) in Atlanta, Georgia. Ever since his expulsion, Brown has repeatedly apologized and tried to transfer back to Howard University, to no avail.
The university pointed to his offensive tweet and said Brown violated the student code of conduct.
Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews opined that instead of heavy-handed punishment, universities should let social media platforms sanction or punish offensive users, whether it is a one-time offense or not. Too often, he said, universities use disciplinary committees to hand down a one-size-fits-all punishment to potentially stop a student from escalating to violent behavior later on.
Matthews’ point is a valid one; it is not the responsibility of universities to spend time and resources monitoring social media feeds of its students instead of tending to its main responsibility: educating its students.