Satirical ICE posters deemed “hate speech” at Stanford University

Isaac Kipust is a student at Stanford University, which, though a private school, has a free speech policy that makes it equivalent to a state university—that is, speech is protected under the courts’ interpretation of our First Amendment. This is the case for all universities in California. As Stanford’s President and its Provost wrote:

Certain types of speech are not permitted under university policy (and, in some cases, state or federal law) – for example, threats of harm that constitute a hate crime, instances of unlawful harassment, or speech that disrupts classes or other university functions. But our commitment to free expression means that we do not otherwise restrict speech in our community, including speech that some may find objectionable. In addition, a state law in California known as the Leonard Law prevents private universities from placing restrictions on students for speech that is protected by the First Amendment; in fact, a speech code Stanford had in the early 1990s was struck down in court under this law.

Unfortunately, the University didn’t practice its own policy in the incident Kipust describes. As he reported in the Stanford Review (a conservative/libertarian student paper), students in his dorm distributed the following poster asking people to report activities of ICE (the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency). This is, of course, a liberal poster meant to call attention to legal but unsavory activities of ICE.

(Full disclosure here: while I think that some deportations are okay, both the Obama and—especially—Trump administrations deported a number of people that should have been allowed to stay in the U.S.: people who had integrated well into American society and were making contributions, despite coming here illegally long ago. And the deportations of people already living here, as opposed to arrests at or near the border, have increased under Trump. I further support the DACA policy for “dreamers.”)

At any rate, Kipust, though reporting that his feelings about immigration aren’t fully formed, felt affronted by that sign, and made his own, which he also put up in the dorm:

I wouldn’t have done that, of course, and even Kipust admits that it “definitely wasn’t the smartest or most eloquent argument I ever made” and lacked “the intellectual rigor to which I must hold myself.”  (He also criticizes the Right for inviting “provocateurs” like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter to speak.) The sign is of course not a serious call for reporting, but a satire of the first sign, and surely can’t be construed as “hate speech”.

But it was.  Kipnus’s posters were taken down and he was called to a meeting with Stanford authorities and three offended students who, he reports, cried during the meeting (my emphasis):

Asking students to report ICE activities against illegal immigrants is hardly different from asking them to report police officers and FBI agents to protect common criminals. And yet, on Wednesday afternoon, I discovered that all my flyers had been removed. Kimball Residential Fellows (RFs), biology Lecturer Andrew Todhunter and his wife Mrs. Erin Todhunter, informed me that since three students felt unsafe and hurt, they and the Kimball RAs [resident assistants] had removed my flyers.

Later that evening, I met with the Kimball RFs, RAs, three aggrieved students, Ms. Kadesia Woods of Residential Education, and Associate Dean of Students Dr. Alejandro M. Martinez, who directs Stanford’s policies on “Acts of Intolerance.” According to them, my flyers were “hate speech” and hence inappropriate for the Kimball community. Because they apparently mocked a flyer protecting an identity group, they constituted an act of intolerance. Most egregiously, because of their effect on the three crying students at the table, I was not permitted to repost my flyers.

I arrived at the meeting expecting to confirm that my flyers were protected by Stanford’s policies on free speech advertised by President Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Drell in November. Instead, I was told that feelings trumped my right to express speech others might find objectionable.

The fact that my flyers were censored because they made students cry stunned me. If speech’s impact mattered more than its content, then the possibilities for censorship were limitless. For instance, at the meeting, the other students—some University staff—were visibly emotional; I was not. Emotions are too subjective a criterion for some arguments to be accepted and others denied.

Here Stanford was clearly violating its own free speech policy. Two days later, Kipust met with the Lead Residence Dean, Dr. Lisa De La Cruz-Caldera. This time he came armed with formidable documents:

I brought with me a strongly worded defense from Professor Michael McConnell, Director of the Constitutional Law Center at the Law School, which stated that posting my flyer appeared to fall clearly within my rights because “at Stanford, lawful speech cannot be restrained or suppressed merely because it is offensive to others.” Professor Peter Berkowitz, a Senior Fellow and free speech expert at the Hoover Institution, quietly observed and took notes on my invitation and the advice of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. I was keen to prove to Stanford administrators that I might only be one student, but student liberties have strong and powerful defenders across the Stanford community.

Luckily, Dr. Cruz-Caldera chose to respect Stanford’s free speech policy. She conceded that it was wrong for staff to take down my flyer, and went even further, stating that no flyer containing speech protected by the First Amendment should ever be removed for its content. Laudably, she is now working to shape a new policy on flyers in dorms that will prohibit restrictions on content.

So all’s well that ends well, and Stanford ultimately did the right thing. What’s telling for me is that three students were actually crying during the meeting: weeping over a poster that was not only satirical, but simply supported the law—invidious though the application of that law may be.

These hyper-emotional reactions are familiar to me by now, but the only time I saw it in the past was when black people were getting physically attacked with dogs and billy clubs during the civil rights marches of the Sixties. That was real, physical pain and the normal human reaction to such brutality. But these days that kind of pain has become equivalent to the kind of emotional offense that is now deemed “painful”, “unsafe,” and a physical threat. Students need to get a grip.


  1. mikeyc
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    All in on this with you, but just want to say that many people -millions likely- are living in fear of ICE these days. Families are being torn apart, some who’ve been here for thirty years or more. So maybe those tears at the meeting, though misplaced and a bit ridiculous in the setting, reflect a real and deep fear.

    • Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      I agree, and the splitting of families that have been here for years is one of the most odious part of what’s happening now. Yes, it’s possible those crying students were either “undocumented” or had family members that were. So their tears might be excused, but not their ignorance of free speech which, after all, is part of this country’s ethos.

      • nicky
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        I can’t but agree. Odious is the operative term.
        Re ‘tears’: they should not play a role. They maybe genuine, illustration of real and justified distress, but in other circumstances, such as being ‘offended’, they often have a crocodilian taste.

    • Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      I agree and totally understand the fears involved. I support almost totally open borders and zero deportations. But I don’t think we will make any progress without an open, messy and probably scary public discourse. Those on the right (not specifically Kipust) are often motivated by (unjustified) fears. They “feel unsafe,” which is totally unreasonable, but the feelings are real motivations for them and censorious actions just make them feel more threatened.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      And Trump is holding them hostage to build his effing Tortilla Wall — which isn’t even a policy, so much as a slogan for his Nuremberg rallies.

  2. barn owl
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Has anyone asked Mr. Kipust why he chose an image depicting pachuco culture for his satirical poster?

    • mikeyc
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I had to google that. Zoot suits! In Mexico. I had no idea. I had assumed the fine young Stanford lad was a fan of gangster films of the 40s. But the Zoot suit shows he’s a garden variety MAGA provocateur. Too bad a few useful idiots obliged.

      I’m glad University stood up to the whiners, but I hope the Stanford community is also aware of Mr. Kipust’s malicious satire.

    • mordacious1
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Looks like an Italian gangster from the Thirties to me. What pachuco carries a Tommy gun? Or was that sarcasm?

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        I agree with you. The figure is not wearing a zoot suit. The suit coat would extend to the knees and the pants legs would be baggy in the legs, then tapered at the foot. The silhouette is completely different.

        But the other image looks to me more like an illustration for a runaway slave.

        Not a very good satirist, whatever else he’s been called.

        • mikeyc
          Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          OIC. That isn’t really a Zoot suit, is it? It’s old time Hollywood gangster.

          • nicky
            Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

            I think he chose a well dressed gangster to contrast with the evil looking burglar (note the tommy gun and the crowbar).
            I think he did well as a satirist.

        • Taz
          Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          To me, the other illustration looks like a thief with a bag of money and a crowbar.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            That illustration is ambiguous and open to interpretation. In a way, it’s just an image of anyone running away. I’m somewhat familiar with images from runaway slave posters, and that image reproduces the iconography (true, with the elements arranged somewhat differently), so that’s what came to my mind first. Again, a Google image search will show posters – a running figure with a sack on a stick slung over his back; and some other images showing a running figure holding a staff or stick of some kind, as per this illustration. The image of the black figure running with the sack is emblematic of posters in the antebellum South.

            • Taz
              Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, but I disagree. That’s pretty obviously a crowbar.

      • barn owl
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Maybe. But have a look at this outfit available for rental:

        Zoot suit trousers aren’t always baggy. Note also the hat and the shoes.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          Do a Google image search for zoot suits to see the originals, not a contemporary take. The pants themselves aren’t baggy in the way that some people wear baggy pants today, they are well-tailored, fit at the waist; but the trouser legs balloon out (that’s what I meant, just the legs), then taper close to the ankles. I don’t think the hat and shoes are unique to zoot suiters; they were accoutrements to the dandy dress of the day.

          Here’s an interesting article from the LA Co. Museum of Art “The search for an authentic zoot suit”

          • Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            In any event, the gangster’s suit on the poster is not the style the Pachuco wear.

            • Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

              That’s not a Zoot suit, which has long coats and baggy trousers with a dangling chain. It’s a generic machine-gun gangster from the thirties, like John Dillinger.

              My father wore a zoot suit when he was younger.

              • Jenny Haniver
                Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                Your father wore a zoot suit? Wild. Any photos? Any stories? Did he be bop to Cab Calloway?

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                Here are some righteous zoot suits for ya:

          • barn owl
            Posted February 6, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            I’ve lived in large cities most of my life, and currently live in a US city that has a predominantly Hispanic (Mexican-American specifically) population and culture. My initial reaction (which, like all of my behavior, is the product of my genes and environment and not a choice, right?) to the image was that it represented pachuco attire.

            I don’t know what a Tommy gun is, nor do I have any interest in learning to distinguish different types of firearms, past and present. You can enlarge the image and instruct me on 1930s gangster attire, zoot suits, and firearms, but that’s not really the point, is it? I doubt I’m the only person who had that particular first impression. I wouldn’t use that image on posters or signs in my city for satirical or any other purposes. I think Mr. Kipust’s free speech rights should be defended, but I also suspect he might be a typical MAGA bigot.

            • Craw
              Posted February 6, 2018 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

              You confess your ignorance while insisting on your interpretation and conclusion.

            • mordacious1
              Posted February 6, 2018 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

              He may be a bigot, Dr. Owl, but if he is, he’s bigoted against Italians.

      • Craw
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        Nobody ever seen a 30s gangster film? That’s not a zoom suit. It’s what George Raft might have worn.

        • mordacious1
          Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

          Zoom suit…that’s that red outfit the Flash wears. Right?

  3. Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Directing policy on Acts of Intolerance huh? Appears that where free speech is concerned he has little tolerance. Glad someone at the university has some sense.

  4. mordacious1
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    If a student came forward who had a family member who was a victim of an illegal alien criminal, would they have removed the original poster if that student had cried?

  5. Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    While I support the second poster, I also support the first. Just because an authority is working within the letter of the law, doesn’t mean those activities shouldn’t be tracked and put within the lime light. Legal and illegal are not synonymous with right and wrong, and if an agency can simply avoid the eyes of the people by holding up a hand and saying “nothing to see here folks, just doin’ our job” then we’ve become complacent to authority which gradually invites tyranny. What ICE is doing these days is grabbing at the low hanging fruit to meet their quotas. All law must be beholden to mercy lest it become a hammer and not a shield.

    • mikeyc
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:51 am | Permalink


    • Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      +1 And I am glad my alma matar ultimately did the right thing. This statement

      “at __________, lawful speech cannot be restrained or suppressed merely because it is offensive to others.”

      should apply to any ‘fill in the blank’ college.

    • Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Legal and illegal are not synonymous with right and wrong….

      A society makes things illegal precisely because the consensus is those things are ‘wrong’. Your personal opinion on whether it’s ‘wrong’ does not give you the freedom to ignore the law. Go change the consensus so you can then change the law.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        There are times when civil disobedience is the only moral course. We can disagree on where that line is, but history teaches that the line exists, and that we are a better, more moral people thanks to those who’ve put themselves on the line to respect it.

        • Posted February 6, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          That’s right and often it is because of the moral force of those who break the law that then “change the consensus so (we) can then change the law”. History is replete with such examples.

        • Posted February 6, 2018 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          Then maybe unlimited immigration from some countries should be made legal, like inside EU.

        • Posted February 10, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

          You want the rule of law, except when you don’t like the law. That’s anarchy.

  6. Christopher Henson
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    The offended students cried, presumably from empathy with the illegals being satirised since Stanford’s tuition would be a little more than most of them could afford. It’s like the fairy tale in which the princesses can feel the pea of human suffering through a dozen mattresses. There is something incredibly cloying about this story.

  7. DrBrydon
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    If you can’t stand having your political opinions mocked, you really don’t belong in college.

  8. Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    There seems to be a rising attitude that people somehow owe us perfect arguments all the time. Kipnus seems to have internalized this when he speaks about “the intellectual rigor to which I must hold myself,” as if there isn’t room for any flawed discourse. Meanwhile, the offended students are entitled to the lowest imaginable standard, “feeling unsafe.”

  9. Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Interesting free speech case at the University of Washington now. On account of extra security costs, the University has required that the College Republicans pay a $17K fee to host a controversial Patriot Prayer rally. The CR have lawyered up.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Wow, it’s la mort de la satire, all right — and, to borrow a lick from the satirist Céline, it’s death on the installment plan.

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    23 years ago I wrote a letter to the editor for the right-wing “Stanford Review”.

    Their policy is that you must state your connection to Stanford.

    I stated 3 things (sort of baiting them admittedly):
    1) My father had been on the faculty of Stanford since 1977.
    2) My mother had been librarian at the Philosophy library for several years
    3) I had worked there one summer as a custodian/janitor.

    They printed my letter and stated ONLY that I was a former janitor at Stanford U!!!!

    Total des jacques culs!

    • Paul S
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Disagree, they asked for your connection, not your relatives connections.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Agree with you; if the U.S. stands for anything aspirational, it’s that there will be no exaltation or corruption by blood.

        What matters is the strength of your arguments (and your own qualification for making them), not who’s your pappy.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        A fair cop.

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Aside from the free speech lesson here, this immigration mess that has been going on forever is at the forefront of the split in this country. I do not see it being solved with the clown we have for a president now. Looking at another government shutdown soon.

    • mordacious1
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I don’t understand why people go after Trump in regards to the immigration issue (whether he’s a clown or not). Immigration law is up to Congress. The president merely enforces the law, which is ultimately his job.

      Democrats had the opportunity to change the laws many times to benefit immigrants, but chose not to. IMO, both parties prefer not to solve issues like this, because these issues are what gets their bases fired up and that results in more contributions to their coffers. Also, I’ve seen polls that say that 70% of Americans want more restrictive immigration, so they might lose their hokey-pokey jobs if they opened the floodgates.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        People go after him because he’s demagogued it to death.

  13. glen1davidson
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Glad it ended reasonably well, but how could anyone even pretend that it was anything but a joke, however humorous it is or isn’t? It’s explicitly comparing itself to the satirized posters, saying “you should see the ICE posters.”

    The trouble is that the enforcers are going to have to learn what “free speech” means according to the First Amendment, and not according to the New Censors.

    Glen Davidson

  14. Jake Sevins
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I’m going to take a different position on all of this: a dorm is the wrong place to post political posters promoting any ideology. The “Report ICE” posters are clearly promoting one viewpoint and Kipust’s satire a different one. But this passive-aggressive poster proxy war is inappropriate in a dorm. Sponsor a campus debate, open discussion, a rally, but don’t make people walk by a sign on their way to bed. I wouldn’t want to have to see that stuff every time I pulled into my garage at home. It’s fine in the public square.

    • Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      On the other hand, one can learn a lot from fellow students in less formal situations – if one is open to it.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      No way could a rule prohibiting individual political speech in a dorm withstand constitutional muster at a public university (or, presumably, be permitted at a school that’s adopted a free-speech policy paralleling the First Amendment) — although, since fellow students are something of a “captive audience,” a school might be permitted to place reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on such speech.

      Would you also favor a rule that prohibits students from displaying potentially divisive religious symbology — say a star & crescent on a wall or a mezuzah hung from a dorm-room door?

      • Jake Sevins
        Posted February 6, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        I personally would object to religious symbols (or any symbol of tribal affiliation) on public display where others have to see it. This includes posters I might enjoy (John Lennon asking for understanding and tolerance) and ones I would find abhorrent (a Daily Stormer poster touting White Supremacy).

        But once again, I am not claiming a legal basis for my objection, I’m just saying I think the conversation would be better had in another way rather than a passive-aggressive poster proxy war.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 6, 2018 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

          Would you bar students from wearing t-shirts with a political message on campus? How about from handing out pamphlets or campaign literature?

          • Jake Sevins
            Posted February 7, 2018 at 12:19 am | Permalink

            Once again, my preference (not my understanding of the law) is that it be conducted away from my front door. In other words, sure… wear your T-Shirt and hand out your pamphlets on the quad, but please don’t stand by my front door and hand me something on the way into my room.

            A demonstration downtown feels very different from one on my front lawn. The latter feels “too close to home” (as the saying goes).

  15. Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    The original poster is an incitement to commit a crime by obstructing justice, and as such, should not be allowed.

    • Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Do you think calls for civil disobedience in general should not be advertised?

      • Posted February 10, 2018 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        You’re still advertising incitement to commit a crime.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Sure it is — a clear and present danger under the “immanent lawless action” standard established in Brandenburg v. Ohio.

      Heaven forfend anyone should ever criticize established law. Glad our civil liberties don’t depend on your analysis.

      • Posted February 6, 2018 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        The authors of the first poster do not criticize the law, however. They criticize only the attempts to enforce the law. They do not suggest any reforms.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 6, 2018 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          Do you think that can be punished (or otherwise prohibited) consistent with the principles of free speech (particularly as set forth under the US First Amendment)?

          It’s in no way “inciting imminent lawless conduct” which is our constitutional standard here.

          • Posted February 7, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            Out of curiousity – is there a difference between advocating or inciting that is recognized in case law?

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 7, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

              Neither is a legal term of art. The distinction drawn by the law depends on how imminent the possibility of harm is.

          • Posted February 7, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            No, I do not see anything illegal in either poster. What I meant was that if a law is bad, I think activists should call for its change, rather than for its non-enforcement.

            • Posted February 10, 2018 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

              It offers to assist in the obstruction of justice.

              • Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

                It is not explicitly said. They may say that they collect the information in order to offer legal advice or financial aid.

              • Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                They might say that.

          • Posted February 10, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

            Christ, Ken — the poster even has the word “immediate” in it and lists a “hotline”. I don’t know how much more imminent one can get.

  16. Gabrielle
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The phone number 866-720-5721 on the satire poster is in fact a real phone number. It’s for the National Center for Disaster Fraud (“”), which is a part of the US Dept. of Justice. The center investigates people/businesses that defraud the government during/after natural disasters. I called it, and someone did answer the phone. The woman wondered why I was asking if they were connected to ICE in any way.

    Why would Kipust choose a real phone number, and one that belongs to the Dept. of Justice?

    As for the poster itself, it certainly is legal, but it’s in poor taste. I’m sure Kipust got a good hearty laugh out of it while making his free speech point.

  17. Jon Gallant
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Good that Stanford came to the right decision, after Mr. Kipust forced the issue. But imagine what would have happened if this had occurred at Evergreen State, or Laurier, or Yale? Mr. Kipust, clearly guilty of the crime of IRONY, would have been lucky to escape with tar-and-feathering.

    Let me predict that the crying students at Stanford are pioneers of a new trend in these psychodramas. In future, we may expect tears when anyone on a campus draws an offensive cartoon involving either Mohammed or the beloved hijab; crying jags when anyone uses pronouns deemed offensive to non-binaries; and veritable tantrums whenever a pro-Israel speaker so much as paases through a campus.

  18. Posted February 6, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Get a grip you say, i’m inclined to think that maybe they should take their hand off it and let some blood run freely.
    They may have something to be upset about, they may not but ten to one, it’s not the poster that’s the problem. They just think it is.

  19. Posted February 6, 2018 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Thankfully Stanford supported free speech in the end.

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