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Art school tightens rules for student speech

Restrictive speech code comes after the expulsion of a student for inappropriate Twitter content


Kansas City Art Institute Creative Commons/Daderot

Art school tightens rules for student speech

A Kansas City, Mo., art school last month clamped down on speech, adopting a new policy that governs students’ social media postings. But a national free speech organization says that the guidelines go too far in regulating student expression.

Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) updated its online speech code for students to prohibit “bullying” and any communication which may “intentionally or unintentionally” inflict “distress on others.” The school did not expressly define what it deems as bullying under the guidelines. In response, the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights of Expression (FIRE) said the school “seeks to create more space to punish students for their speech.”

Less than two months ago, administrators expelled—then subsequently re-enrolled—a student after receiving complaints of inappropriate social media posts. Ash Mikkelsen posted sexually explicit Japanese cartoons—commonly known as hentai—on his Twitter page. As a private institution, KCAI is not subject to the First Amendment. But once FIRE petitioned the school on Mikkelsen’s behalf, KCAI re-admitted him, pointing to school promises to support “free speech and open assembly.”

Founded in 1885, KCAI offers immersive studio programs on a small, scenic campus within walking distance of the famous Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It also subscribes to progressive diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives, vowing to “integrate diversity and anti-racist language into college-wide student learning outcomes” and support a “plurality of voices and perspectives.” The school’s last four student work exhibitions each featured multiple works that included nudity and inappropriate language and are still posted online.

FIRE’s Sabrina Conza told the school in a July 7 letter as to Mikkelsen’s expulsion, “That KCAI is an art school punishing a student for promoting artistic expression makes the infringement all the more egregious.”

College Pulse and FIRE recently completed a student survey on school speech policies at over 200 colleges, ranking them from best to worst. Not only were the five worst schools for free expression arts schools, but 3 of the 5 also have Ivy League status.


Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute student course.

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