Two students were called into the Dean of Students’ office following a Facebook thread about incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s visit to the Institute of Politics (IOP).
Fourth-year Jake Bittle wrote in a Facebook post that he was “planning to start projectile vomiting five minutes into the discussion,” and fourth-year Terry Hines Jr. commented that he was thinking about “beating an iop student intern senseless” in protest.
Bittle, who recently said in an interview that the IOP is “normalizing” the Trump administration by inviting Spicer for a discussion, and Hines received e-mails on Tuesday from Dean of Students in the University Michele Rasmussen asking them to meet with her because of the post.
“I have become aware of a post you submitted to the IOP’s Facebook page in response to promotion of a January 4 event featuring David Axelrod and Sean Spicer. In light of the nature of this post, I would like to speak with you by the end of this week,” Rasmussen wrote in her e-mail to Bittle.
Bittle did not “submit” a post to the IOP Facebook page—he shared the IOP’s event announcement page on December 23 to his personal account with the added text: “I don't see how we, as a community, can afford not to disrupt this event. I'm personally planning to start projectile vomiting five minutes into the discussion. Who's with me?” He later changed the text to a Michelle Obama quote: “When they go low, we go high.”
Hines met with Rasmussen on Wednesday, and Bittle will meet with her on Thursday.
Hines said his conversation with Rasmussen was “informative,” and that Rasmussen made him aware of potential consequences if his comments were misinterpreted. According to Hines, Rasmussen did not elaborate or name any institutions or bodies that would be taking disciplinary action against the two students.
“My comment was a parody of past campus events and weren’t actual intents of mine and were not to be taken seriously. I was parodying campus events…particularly the article The Maroon reported about the Phi Delt induction,” Hines said.
Fourth-year Dakota Ford wrote the first comment on the Facebook post: “Why are you thinking of protesting when [Sean Spicer] hasn't even done anything yet.” Ford is a former member of Phi Delta Theta (Phi Delt) fraternity, and he spoke to The Maroon in October about a lawsuit against him and the fraternity involving a former pledge who claims he was assaulted and bloodied by members of the fraternity. Ford denied some of the plaintiff’s allegations, and claimed that the pledge sustained his injuries from slipping on ice.
Since his meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Hines added a clarification to Bittle’s post, saying that his commentary was “sarcastic in nature and intent.”
Bittle responded to Ford’s comment at length with specific criticisms of Sean Spicer. Ford did not address Bittle’s points in an ensuing comment, but replied “I just love this university.”
Fourth-year Freddy Davis responded, “I mean this comment is over the line...interns cause themselves enough pain slipping on ice...”
Ford said he saw no connection between the comment thread and the Phi Delt lawsuit, despite Hines’s claim that his comments referred directly to that situation.
“To jump to the conclusion that Terry's lighthearted comment was referencing the obviously false assault accusations against Phi Delt by a disgruntled former pledge would be as absurd as the accusations themselves,” Ford told The Maroon.
It is not clear how the University obtained the Facebook post, but it was public at the time of publication. The IOP directed a request for comment to the University News Office, which declined to comment on questions about individual students.
Bittle told The Maroon that his comment was a joke, and that he was “clearly” not planning any harm to Spicer.
“Taking an outsider's perspective, I guess I can see why they'd want to inspect what might look like a threat, but knowing the situation and the context, their involvement feels like a little bit of an overreach. Whether a university administration should be responsible for or involved in monitoring student social media pages at all is a separate question, about which my opinion is probably clear,” he said.
In other comments on the post, students discussed the merits of protesting Spicer’s visit. Bittle commented on one of those threads: “There is no protest. I'm just going to projectile vomit on Sean Spicer…by accident.”
The event featuring Spicer will be held on January 4 in the Cloister Club in Ida Noyes Hall. It is free and open to the public.