Tweets spark heated debate
During the winter break, junior Khadijah Lynch, who was the Undergraduate Departmental Representative for the African and Afro-American Studies department at the time, was put under the social media microscope as comments she made on Twitter began circulating.
Lynch’s Twitter activity generated widespread reaction online after an article written by Daniel Mael ’15 was published on the conservative news website Truth Revolt on Dec. 20, holding Lynch responsible as a “student leader.” In the article, Mael embedded several tweets posted from Lynch’s personal Twitter account that same day, commenting on the shootings of New York Police Department Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. One of the tweets embedded in the article read: “i have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today.”
Later that week, Lynch resigned from her UDR position, according to a statement from the AAAS department on their website. The department’s chair, Prof. Chad Williams (AAAS), wrote in the statement that Lynch’s tweets do not represent the views of the department. “AAAS, unequivocally, does not promote nor condones a disregard for the loss of human life,” he wrote. “We express our most sincere condolences to their family and loved ones.”
Since both Lynch’s Twitter posts and Mael’s article began circulating online, Brandeis students and alumni, along with readers unaffiliated with the University, have voiced their opinions on Facebook and Twitter. The social media platforms have been used to express both threats to and support for Lynch. A public Facebook group—titled “Expel Khadijah Lynch from Brandeis”—was created on Dec. 21. The hashtag #IStandWithKhadijah has also gained traction on Facebook, as many Brandeis students have used it to post responses to the online threats that Lynch has received.
In the AAAS department’s statement, Williams acknowledges the social media response, stating that it can be both “productive and dangerous.”
For the past several weeks, both the Brandeis community and readers outside the Brandeis community have continued to respond to the situation across social media.
On Dec. 22, Student Union President Sneha Walia '15 sent an email to the student body, signed by herself, Chief of Staff Flora Wang ’15 and Senior and Junior Student Representatives to the Board of Trustees Mohamed Sidique ’15 and Grady Ward ’16, respectively, on behalf of the Student Union. Walia wrote that: “This commentary, particularly from individuals outside of Brandeis, has grown increasingly malicious over time, and needs to be addressed by our community. After assessing the situation, we as the Brandeis Undergraduate Student Union would like to express our support for the right of Khadijah and of any student to express their opinion, regardless of how we personally feel about the content of their message.” Walia urged the student body to have open discussions about the issue.
Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel published a statement to his website, calling Lynch’s tweets “hurtful and disrespectful, inconsistent with our institutional values.” Flagel wrote that the University is “equally dismayed that individuals responding to the initial comments have posted reprehensible racist and threatening comments.” He wrote that the University encourages a fair and thoughtful discussion on the situation, free from threats.
The Brandeis Black Student Organization released a statement on Dec. 22, sent out to community members in an email from BBSO President Witney Christie ’17, reading in part: “Miss Lynch’s freedom of speech has been greatly compromised and extremely violated at the hands of these accusers who believe she should be expelled and/or removed from her financial aid. Her character as a free citizen, student leader, and an African American woman has been called in question simply by a miswritten and blinding article that did not properly convey her said “tweets” and personal opinions.”
The current Racial Minority Senator, Marlharissa Lagardere ’16, released a statement addressed to the Brandeis community in an email on Dec. 22. Lagardere wrote that, while she does not support the Lynch's comments, she does support her constitutional right to free speech. “I ask for Brandeis University to continue showing Khadijah Lynch support in this trying time and vote against her expulsion and stand in solidarity of her freedom of speech as an American Citizen and human being,” she wrote.
The Brandeis African Student Organization, the Brandeis Asian American Student Association and the Women of Color Alliance were among other student groups to post statements to social media supporting Lynch that week.
On Dec. 22, Michael Piccione ’15 sent an email to several members of the University administration—University President Frederick Lawrence, Dean of Students Jamele Adams, Provost Lisa Lynch, Assistant Dean and Director of Student Events Stephanie Grimes, Assistant Dean of Student Life and Director of the Intercultural Center Monique Pillow Gnanaratnam and Flagel—expressing his concern for the situation. Piccione also included Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, Title IX Coordinator Linda Shinimoto, Orientation and Community Standards Specialist Tiffany Chan and Profs. Gordon Fellman (SOC) and Harry Mairson (COSI), as well as over 200 students as recipients on the email. Piccione, who is listed as a member of the 2015 Student Conduct Board on the University’s website, itemized a list of sections of the Rights and Responsibilities handbook that he claimed Mael violated by publishing the Dec. 20 Truth Revolt article.
Piccione wrote, “he has potentially violated multiple parts of Section 2.10, particularly 2.10.f of Rights and Responsibilities… It is essential that this be taken into consideration. Other sections potentially violated are 3.2a (stalking), and attention may also be warranted about Section 17, 20, and 21.4.” Piccione also wrote that the students whose email addresses were copied on his message “stand in solidarity with Khadijah in this difficult time and who wish to see action taken to hold the student in question responsible and to protect her safety.”
Last week, a Jan. 8 article published by the Washington Free Beacon, an online newspaper, stated that a No Contact Order had been issued by the University between Piccione and Mael. The 2014-2015 Rights and Responsibilities handbook describes a NCO as a measure that is issued by the Dean of Students Office “to ascribe clear, structured guidelines and boundaries between students who are involved in a conflict.” The Dean of Students Office can terminate these orders, the handbook states, in consultation with the requesting party. The next day, the Washington Free Beacon published a follow-up article, stating that the NCO had been lifted, according to emails they obtained.
In interviews with the Justice, both Mael and Piccione confirmed the NCO, which was implemented on Dec. 23. Piccione told the Justice that he doesn’t known Mael personally, but has interacted with him through his job as a cashier in Usdan Dining Hall in the past. Piccione said that he requested the NCO because he wanted to minimize any contact with Mael that could be troublesome or confrontational.
On Jan. 8, Piccione had the NCO removed, because he found out that there will be times when he will be the only cashier in Usdan, and since he cannot refuse anyone service, having the NCO in place would make his work situation difficult.
“I got involved because people from outside Brandeis were threatening the safety of Brandeis students,” Piccione said. Additionally, Piccione clarified a suggestion he made in his email—a claim that Mael had violated section 3.2a of the handbook, which prohibits stalking—saying that he thought that, by returning to Lynch’s Twitter page in order to update his Truth Revolt article, Mael exhibited problematic behavior.
Mael told the Justice that he was first informed of the NCO during a phone call with Jamele Adams and said that he’d never interacted with Piccione before. “I was not angry; I was certainly not indignant; I was acting as a student journalist in the Brandeis community,” Mael said of his article.
To date, no student organizations have reached out to Mael to discuss his article, and no other NCOs have been placed against him, he said. Regarding the backlash and threats that he has received since the publishing of his Dec. 20 article, Mael said, “I hope that other students who are faced with similar predicaments have the courage to speak out.”
Lynch did not respond to request for comment for this article.