January 18, 2022
Today, Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) filed an amicus brief supporting college students’ efforts to stop Virginia Tech’s Bias Intervention and Response Team (“BIRT”). Like many colleges and universities, Virginia Tech has implemented the BIRT to police student conduct on campus. Any time a student feels offended by a peer’s comments, the student can report the speaker for a bias incident. Virginia Tech provides vague guidelines for what counts as bias. But once bias is reported, administrators step in, investigate the alleged misconduct, and may even refer the reports to disciplinary authorities.
Student members of Speech First at Virginia Tech want to engage in politically charged discussions on topics like abortion, Black Lives Matter, and gender identity. But given the University’s bias reporting form, they fear that their peers will report their speech to the BIRT. Rather than face the potential consequences, the students have self-censored.
In its amicus brief, SLF warns that Virginia Tech’s bias reporting system violates the First Amendment. Not only does it scare students into silence, but it directly impacts our nation’s democratic process because students are hesitant to engage in speech on current affairs.
“College is meant to be the marketplace of ideas,” says SLF Attorney and Director of the 1A Project Cece O’Leary. “But because of this reporting process, students at Virginia Tech who find themselves in the political minority stop themselves from sharing their views. Like so many other universities these days, Virginia Tech can hardly be called a marketplace.”