A graduate student at the University of Tennessee has filed a lawsuit against the institution for violating her First Amendment rights after her social media content led to two investigations and an expulsion.
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Kimberly Diei is a student in the doctoral program at UT and seeking her doctorate in pharmacy with an emphasis on nuclear pharmacy. She was expelled from the program after an anonymous tip led the professionalism committee in the College of Pharmacy to conduct inquires into her social media accounts. After the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education intervened, she was reinstated into the program but only after two investigations into her personal platforms.
Together, Diei and FIRE have filed a lawsuit against the university after enduring two unconstitutional investigations and facing the threat of a third according to an official release.
“It’s just a matter of time before they come back for another investigation into my expression on social media,” said Diei, according to the memo. “UT spied on my social media activity — activity that has no bearing on my success as a pharmacist or my education. I can be a successful and professional pharmacist as well as a strong woman that embraces her sexuality. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
Her posts were anonymously reported to the school resulting in Diei facing her college’s Professional Conduct Committee, which returned a unanimous decision that she violated university policies by creating “crude” and “sexual” posts. According to the memo, the university refused to identify the policies she violated or even the posts that lead to the inquiry. She was forced to write a letter reflecting on her behavior, although she held reservations on the legality of the procedure.
Shortly thereafter, the University used two tweets to bring her to the conduct committee once again.
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One tweet in question referenced the hit song “WAP” by rapper Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion during a trending discussion. Diei added her own twist to the already racy lyrics, suggesting her version be used for a remix of the polarizing single. theGrio reported the artists themselves faced backlash for the vulgar song. According to the report, the sexually explicit, self-expressive song and the accompanying video was criticized by some for the racy rhymes yet praised by others for the bold, sexy bop.
The second tweet made reference to a Beyoncé song. According to the statement, the Twitter account operated under a pseudonym and do not mention or highlight Diei’s identity as a student at the College of Pharmacy or reveal any association with the university. Only four days after being notified that she was once again under investigation, she still was not presented which policies she allegedly violated and the committee unanimously voted to expel Diei from the program.
She wrote a letter of appeal to the dean who reversed the decision only after being contacted by FIRE.
“It’s so important to me to just have my voice, because people that look like me are often told ‘be quiet, stay in the back,’ and that just does not suit my personality,” Diei said. “I’m not asking for approval. I’m asking for respect.”
“The First Amendment protects the right of students to suggest lyrics for a Cardi B remix on Twitter and Instagram. Period,” said FIRE attorney Greg H. Greubel. “Kim is an authentic and successful woman, and FIRE believes that it is important to show the public that students like Kim are capable of being successful professionals while also being free to personally express themselves on social media. Kim is standing up for every American who hopes to have a personal life in addition to their professional life.”
With the lawsuit, FIRE and Die hope “to stop UT from further investigations into Diei’s social media, eliminate the college’s overbroad professionalism policies, and win damages for Diei over the college interfering with her First Amendment and due process rights.”
FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities
“I’m not going to go through this a third time, during my third year,” Diei said. “So, I wanted to send a clear message: Don’t mess with me and don’t do this again to anyone else.”
theGrio has reached out to FIRE, Kimberly Diei and the University of Tennessee for additional comments and is awaiting response.
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