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Appendix F: Use of "Fighting Words"

As a result of litigation that has recently been filed challenging one application of the University's "fighting words" policy, the Office of the General Counsel is issuing the following guidance on interpretation and application of that policy.

(1) The policy defines prohibited "fighting words" as: "those personally abusive epithets which, when directly addressed to any ordinary person are, in the context used and as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke a violent reaction whether or not they actually do so."

(2) To be subject to the policy, "fighting words" must be inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.

(3) To be subject to the policy, "fighting words" must be directly addressed to the subject of the epithets.

(4) The policy describes as examples of "fighting words" "those terms widely recognized to be derogatory references to race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, and other personal characteristics." These examples are provided for the purpose of illustration only. Derogatory references to the listed personal characteristics are not automatically fighting words under the policy if the other requirements of the definition cited above are not met. Nor does the policy limit the definition of "fighting words" to such derogatory references.

(5) The policy prohibits use of fighting words "to harass any person(s) on campus or University property..."and later provides a definition of harassment." This "harassment" requirement narrows the scope of the policy; it does not expand it. To be subject to the policy, "fighting words" must BOTH meet the policy's definition of that term and constitute harassment.

(6) The definition of "harassment" requires that the harassing conduct "interfere with the victim's ability to pursue effectively his or her education or otherwise participate fully in campus or University programs and activities." Conduct meets this standard when it causes a substantial impairment of the victim's participation in the University activities or use of University facilities.

(7) Prior to applying the fighting words policy to any student conduct, UCSD officials must consult with the Director of Student Conduct. The Director in turn must, prior to applying the policy to any student conduct, consult with the Office of the General Counsel regarding the proper interpretation and application of the policy to the specific facts involved.