Monday, October 15

UCLA law professor says Alexandra Wallace's YouTube video constitutionally protected, police still investigating threats


Police are still investigating the nature of the e-mail and phone call threats made against Alexandra Wallace, said university spokesman Phil Hampton on Wednesday.

Wallace, a third-year political science student, released a video called “Asians in the Library” on Friday.

The YouTube video, in which Wallace makes a number of disparaging comments about Asians, went viral Sunday evening and has since generated a tremendous response, extending far beyond the UCLA community.

The Office of the Dean of Students, headed by associate vice chancellor Robert Naples, is looking into whether Wallace’s speech violates any part of the UCLA student code of conduct.

The dean’s office has contacted Wallace and is working with her and her family, Naples said.

Although the investigation is ongoing, Naples previously suggested that the speech may conflict with the student code‘s harassment clause. But he cautioned that the student code in no way outweighs the protections afforded by the First Amendment.

Many community members have expressed opinions on whether Wallace’s speech is protected under the First Amendment. While some defended her rights to free speech, others have called her speech libelous, as well as a defamation of the Asian race and UCLA.

Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment scholar and a professor at UCLA School of Law, said he could not identify any statements made in the video that would not be constitutionally protected.

“That (the video) expresses racist views, or that it offends people, certainly does not suffice to strip it of protection,” Volokh said.

Although Naples raised the possibility of the video violating a “harassment” clause within the student code, Volokh said that even harassment is protected under the First Amendment.

“Whatever narrow harassment exceptions might eventually be found to exist ““ a matter that is not clear ““ a publication by a college student on YouTube can’t constitutionally form the basis of lawsuit or of discipline against the student,” he added.

Volokh said the speech is not libelous or defamatory. He defined libel as false and defamatory statements of fact about a particular named or easily identifiable person.

“One can’t sue someone for allegedly libeling an entire racial group or even the set of all Asian students at UCLA,” Volokh said. “The speech isn’t libelous because it does not refer to particular people, and it is mainly opinion, not false factual statements.”

The speech also does not fall under the category of “fighting words,” which is not protected under the First Amendment. Fighting words, according to Volokh, are classified as “face-to-face insults that are likely to start an immediate fight.” Because the speech was expressed through video, it cannot be characterized as face-to-face. There is also no indication that the insults were intended to start an immediate fight, Volokh said.

“Most speech, good and bad, right and wrong, offensive and inoffensive, is constitutionally protected. This speech is no exception,” Volokh said.

The Daily Bruin contacted Wallace on Tuesday, but Wallace declined to comment further, saying that she intended to focus on her finals for the time being.

Read past coverage:
“Viral YouTube video called “repugnant” by UCLA administration” – March 13
UCLA student’s YouTube video ‘Asians in the Library’ prompts death threats; violent responses criticized as equally damaging” – March 14

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.