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'Racially charged' Snapchats that sparked outrage are free speech, UND says

The University of North Dakota's president called the social media posts "inexcusable."

An investigation into two racially charged photos at the University of North Dakota has concluded that those involved did nothing that violates the student code of conduct or any laws.

The university announced on its Facebook page that the decision by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities was driven by the Constitution's protection of free speech and said the investigation is now closed.

The two posts distributed on social media within two days of each other in September were widely denounced.

One featured four female students with facial peels resembling blackface and was captioned "Black lives matter."

The other showed a selfie of smiling students above the caption, "Locked the black bitch out."

The university says in Wednesday's Facebook post it is restricted in the details it can disclose about the incidents because of privacy laws.

University president still appalled

After the posts first appeared, UND President Mark Kennedy called them inexcusable and said "We must demand better of ourselves and our university community."

On Wednesday Kennedy added his own message to the university's Facebook post.

"I continue to be appalled that photos with racially-charged messages were conceived and disseminated," Kennedy wrote. He added: "(E)ven though free speech is protected, that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t condemn expressions that are hurtful to others."

Students organized a "Zero Tolerance" rally against racism last Friday, Forum News service reported.

Kennedy wrote on Friday that zero tolerance is unachievable under the First Amendment but that expressions of racism and bigotry should be condemned.

Diversity Council to make recommendations

Kennedy also announced he's having a UND vice-president convene the university's Diversity Council, which was recently expanded by two members.

The council will be asked to:

  • inventory existing campus diversity programs
  • identify best practices for enhancing the university's understanding of diversity
  • provide recommendations for Kennedy to consider

Kennedy offered no timeframe for the council's work.

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