This post originally published here.
Students at California State University San Marcos have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, under Titles IX, VI and II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The complaint seeks immediate injunctive and remedial action against California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM), with regard to its decision to allow the distribution of a publication on campus known as The Koala, because of the hostile environment the university has allowed the publication to develop at CSUSM.
The Koala was established as a student organization in 1982, at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). But by 2005, the tabloid had become a privately held, for-profit publishing company. According the San Diego County records, the company is owned by George Lee Liddle III, a former UCSD student. The publication now has three editions, which are distributed at UCSD, San Diego State University and, the most recent edition, at CSUSM.
The Koala regularly contains prejudicial and hostile content based on sex, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disabilities. The publication has printed numerous articles, photographs and other images about women students and women as a class, as well as other protected class categories, causing targeted students to feel fearful, unsafe and unable to fully access educational and other programs on campus, particularly in popular campus venues where The Koala is distributed.
CSUSM students filed the complaint because a recent letter demanding assistance from the university, to protect the campus community from the hostile environment created by The Koala and the company’s aggressive and hostile distribution tactics, received no response. It was only from local news media coverage that the students learned the university intended to maintain its stance that The Koala is protected speech, hence, the university would not take the actions requested in the letter.
“Officials at CSUSM have enabled the severe and pervasive harassment of women and other classes of students targeted for such harassment by ‘The Koala,’” explained Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at New England Law Boston and a Title IX expert who is assisting the students with their complaint.
“It is clear that the harassment of students, including verbal conduct, is a form of discrimination prohibited by the statutes enforced by the Office for Civil Rights,” Murphy said. “The presence of ‘The Koala’ at Cal State San Marcos has created an environment that any reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile and offensive, and this environment is limiting the Cal State students’ ability to participate in and benefit from educational programs. The university is bound by federal law to provide a prompt and effective response on behalf of victimized students and the integrity of the academic environment as a whole.”
Editor’s note: The students, faculty and staff of CSUSM have launched a petition, also targeting the administration. Show them your support by signing the petition.