Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Excuse LSU Fraternity Banner


Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) may not be an athletic campus, but that doesn’t mean we don’t show school pride at sporting events. We sometimes even playfully bash rival teams during games. However, there’s a fine line between good-natured jabs and offensive humor.

For the Kent State University and Louisiana State University (LSU) football game on Sept. 14, Delta Kappa Epsilon, a LSU fraternity, put up a banner in front of their house that read, “Getting massacred is nothing new to Kent State.” Although it doesn’t seem offensive on the surface, the banner alludes to the 1970 Kent State shooting in which the Ohio National Guard (ONG) shot at students during a protest against the Vietnam War. The ONG ended up killing four students and injuring nine. Interestingly, the ONG was trying to subdue students for doing the same thing the LSU fraternity was doing: exercising their freedom of speech.

The LSU police and college president already forced the frat to take the banner down and compelled them to issue an official apology, and chances are they may still face disciplinary action. I’ll admit: if this was their first offensive banner, I would’ve suggested that they be let off the hook because they’re frat boys who were merely trying to be witty. However, it seems that this particular fraternity is truly ignorant of the potential emotional impact of their words. Some of their previous banners have included the phrases “Like the Batman Premiere, We’re Starting Off With a Bang!” and “LSU vs. UAB It’s gonna be a gas. Syriasly.”

The LSU fraternity claimed that they didn’t know any better because they’re “young college students” but there’s only so far their freedom of speech can protect them. The members may be young, but they’re not uneducated. Justifying their behavior as a form of naivety is not only a big slap to the university for admitting them, but also a slap in the face of college students like us because their statement discredits us and indirectly says that we do things without thinking just because we are young.

The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity may not face harsh punishment because LSU is a public university and, therefore, their freedom of speech is still intact but what if this situation happened at Fordham? If this were to happen at a private university, the perpetrators might have faced serious disciplinary action. Private institutions reserve the right to enact their own rules because they are not controlled by the state. If a Fordham student was the offender in this situation, I wouldn’t suggest something as extreme as expulsion but the university should not—and probably wouldn’t—let that person escape unscathed. Letting something like this go without serious repercussions could ultimately hurt a school’s reputation.

Not to mention, poking fun at something as serious as the Kent State and Aurora shootings affects a much larger audience than just a rival football team. Lightening the severity of these terrible events with humor is disrespectful, especially to victims of the shootings and their families who may not have yet come to terms with past tragedies. Banners like the ones on the Delta Kappa Epsilon house only succeed in reopening their wounds.

College students sometimes fall prey to the misconception that our words and actions will always be protected by our freedom of speech but we need to realize that they will eventually come back to bite us and our reputations in the “real world.” LSU may not have released the names of the frat members since it was a collective effort but their association with the fraternity itself is enough to place somewhat of a stigma on their reputation. It is often said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but in some cases, using the wrong words can create an unwanted picture that not only hurts you but those around you.