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An autistic Portland State University graduate student was cut off from her online class on US presidential election day for using the word “snowflake.” The student, Lindy Treece, used the word during a class that discussed the vote, to say, “I’m going to accept the results of the election no matter what because I’m not a snowflake.”
This instantly resulted in the professor switching off her camera and microphone thus removing her from the class, said the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), to which Treece turned for assistance after the incident.
The student was not only removed from the class but also received an email informing her that if she wanted to attend it the future, she would have to agree not to use what this public university’s professor said was derogatory language, without explaining what (clearly, other than “snowflake”) would qualify for derogatory language going forward.
The word “snowflake” was seen as having potential to harass and intimidate, but Treece decided that the behavior of the professor – who may have acted at her own discretion – and of the university toward her was also unacceptable, refusing to agree to the demand made in the email, and threatening to take legal action.
Replying to the email sent by the professor – who knew the student was autistic – Treece made a point that because of her condition, making her unaware of people’s responses until they happen, the advice to “think before speaking” was useless.
The decision to sue was made after the student learned the professor announced she would be discussing Treece and her “impacts” with other students without allowing her to participate.
After all this, Portland State backed down, allowing Treece to attend the class the following week even though she had not agreed to the demand.
The school’s PR head Christina Williams said that while “the robust debate of ideas” is the foundation for a public educational institution of this kind – they also felt “responsible for keeping our campus safe from harassment and intimidation, and we ask that students express views in ways that respect others,” The College Fix reported.