‘China Kinda Sus’ sticker (Emerson College Turning Point USA)

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has launched an ad campaign to call attention to Emerson College’s suspension of a conservative student group for alleged “bigotry” against China.

The school suspended its chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative activist group, last year for distributing stickers with the phrase “China kinda sus” — “sus” meaning “suspicious” — alongside a hammer and sickle image. 

In an email to students on September 30, the university’s interim president, William Gilligan, condemned “anti-Asian bigotry” and said that the Emerson chapter of TPUSA would be investigated after its members distributed the stickers a day earlier. In a later letter to the group’s leadership, the school’s director of community standards served notice that the group had been suspended from its usual activities due to the “Bias Related Behavior” under investigation, according to FIRE, which has advocated for the students.

However, Emerson TPUSA vice president Kjersten Lynum said in a video posted to Instagram that the stickers were to draw attention to the Chinese government’s well-documented human-rights atrocities, including the Uyghur genocide. “It has nothing to do with Asians or Asian culture. I am Chinese-Singaporean myself, and I’m offended by people who suggest I have hatred toward my own race,” she said.

“I was born in Singapore,” said KJ Lynum, vice president of the group. “So to be called anti-Asian was very strange.”

FIRE reached out to Emerson College on October 5 to remind school officials that “freedom of expression entails the right to criticize not only our own governments, but those of foreign nations, even when that criticism is offensive.”

While Emerson ultimately found that the conservative group “did not intend to target anyone other than China’s government,” it accused TPUSA of creating “a hostile, intimidating or offensive working, living or learning environment.”

The college decided to place a “formal warning” on TPUSA’s record and denied the group’s subsequent appeal.

Now, FIRE has launched “Emerson Kinda Sus” ads that will appear on the Boston transit system and on mobile billboards that will cross the city to “call out Emerson’s attempts to censor and squelch free expression on campus,” according to a news release.

The ads direct viewers to EmersonKindaSus.com, a website FIRE created to spread awareness of the situation.

FIRE says it aims to “bring attention to Emerson’s failure to tolerate free expression and to live up to its policies, which emphasize ‘the high importance’ of the First Amendment.” The nonpartisan, nonprofit group notes that the college’s motto is “Expression Necessary to Evolution.”

The mobile billboard can be found circling Emerson’s campus on January 19 and 20, while the subway ads at Boylston and Tufts Medical will be in place until at least February 14.

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