Ash Mikkelsen (right) is fighting to protect artistic expression and their academic future after retweeting sexually explicit Japanese-style cartoons involving nudity and sex, known as hentai, on their personal, pseudonymous Twitter account.
July 6, 2022
- The posts included drawings of characters engaged in sexual acts
- Expelled student: Shocking overstepping ‘makes me worry about the future of other artists like me’
- College creates rules to expel student for artistic expression, alleged sexual harassment and hostile learning environment
- FIRE: “Art history is full of censors, but today KCAI is the one holding the fig leaf”
KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 6, 2022 — Someone buy a bra for Venus de Milo, because the Puritan Institute of the Arts in Kansas City is on a tear.
Freshman Ash Mikkelsen is fighting to protect his artistic expression and academic future after retweeting sexually explicit Japanese-style cartoons involving nudity and sex, known as hentai, under his personal username Twitter account. The art institute investigated Mikkelsen, claiming the images could constitute sexual harassment and contribute to a hostile learning environment. Although Mikkelsen did not tag anyone from the university community in their posts or message anyone associated with the account, KCAI banished Mikkelsen for their artistic expression – and they were permanently banned from re-enrolling at the school.
Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression sent a letter to KCAI demanding that the school immediately reverse the scandalous expulsion.
“This experience left me feeling angry, but more importantly, disappointed,” Mikkelsen said. “I’m fighting back to show that it’s not acceptable to punish students for what they say, do or do — even if the administration doesn’t like what that protected activity involves.”
After a student claimed to have found the account and complained to administrators, KCAI tried to justify the investigation and then expelling Mikkelsen for non-Title IX sexual harassment in a hostile environment under his Student Code of Conduct. However, KCAI does not define sexual harassment under this code. It is clearly unfair and illegal to punish students according to unpublished disciplinary standards. Also, Mikkelsen’s retweets don’t come close legal definition of sexual harassment.
“The history of art is full of censors, but today KCAI is the one holding the fig leaf,” said FIRE Program Manager Sabrina Konza. “Instead of protecting artistic expression – as it promises to do – the art institute intruded into Ash’s personal life to find a reason to be offended and then devised a scheme to expel them. People are offended by any kind of artistic expression. But offense alone does not justify censorship – especially from an art school.
As a private university, KCAI is not bound by the First Amendment’s free speech protections. But on KCAI policieswhich it is morally and contractually bound to uphold, states that the school is “committed to freedom of expression,” “supports the rights of the campus community to engage in free speech and open assembly,” and values ”intellectual and artistic curiosity along with critical and creative study.’
School first notified Mikkelsen of the investigation on their Twitter account on June 15 and discussed the allegations that same day. On June 29, Assistant Dean of Students Joe Timson told Mikkelsen they would be expelled — without any meaningful opportunity to contest the charges — for violating the Student Code of Conduct.
KCAI gave Mikkelsen five working days to appeal the finding, which they are doing today. FIRE connected Mikkelsen with a FIRE Legal Network Attorney.
“As a veteran and as an American, I’m standing up for my rights — they’re something my friends fought and died for,” said Mikkelsen, who served in the Marine Corps. “So for KCAI to so flippantly trample over them makes me worry about the future of other artists like myself.”
Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and upholding the individual rights of all Americans to freedom of speech and freedom of thought—the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE recognizes that colleges and universities play a vital role in preserving free thought in a free society. To that end, we place special emphasis on protecting the individual rights of students and faculty members on our national campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious freedom, and sanctity of conscience.
Daniel Burnett, Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; [email protected]