There’s no doubt that the Instagram photo of the rifle Austin Tong posted ruffled administrative feathers at Fordham University. We’ve seen plenty of instances of this kind of unhinged hoplophobic response to students putting up social media photos of themselves lawfully holding a firearm in the past. But there may be more going on here. The presence of the gun may be just a convenient excuse to mandate that he undergo reeducation.
The purpose of Mr. Tong’s post was to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, hence his use of the #198964 hashtag. Why would that upset Fordham?
There are about 370,000 Chinese students currently enrolled in American colleges and universities. For the most part, they pay full-boat tuition, a total of over $15 billion dollars a year. Fordham no doubt has its share of that total.
As we’ve seen recently in behavior of other large American businesses like, oh, the National Basketball Association, they tend to take a kid gloves approach to dealings with their largest customers. So, for the same reason you can’t by an NBA jersey with “FreeHongKong” printed on it (but [email protected] is A-OK), institutions of higher learning are very reluctant to allow anything on campus that might disrupt a huge source of their revenue.
On June 3, rising senior Austin Tong posted to his Instagram account a photo of David Dorn, a retired St. Louis police captain killed by looters in the unrest following the killing of George Floyd. The photo included the caption, “Y’all a bunch of hypocrites,” a reference to Tong’s frustration, as a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, with what he refers to as “the nonchalant societal reaction over [Dorn’s] death.”
The following day, June 4, was the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy activists. Tong, who emigrated from China as a child, posed for a photo holding a legally-obtained gun off-campus, with the caption “Don’t tread on me.” The caption also included an American flag emoji, a Chinese flag emoji, and a hashtag commonly used by Chinese citizens to avoid censorship of online discussion of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Fordham wrote to Tong on June 8, when Dean of Students Keith Eldredge informed Tong he was under investigation by the university for the two photos. On Tuesday, Fordham handed down its verdict: Tong was found guilty of violating university policies on “bias and/or hate crimes” and “threats/intimidation.”
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