Rice University student group demands 'Black House,' better ID photos, statue removal

A student group at Rice University in Houston, Texas, is "demanding" the administration fund a "non-residential Black House" on campus, as well as remove a prominent statue of the university's founder -- and top student officials are deleting some comments disagreeing with those positions, Fox News has learned this week.

The extraordinary demand, and apparent censorship, came amid rising left-wing sentiment on campuses across the nation after the in-custody death of George Floyd. In recent weeks, a UCLA lecturer was suspended for pointedly refusing to cancel his exam for black students; a Cornell Law School faculty member was threatened with termination for criticizing Black Lives Matter, before the school dean intervened on his behalf; and a top University of Chicago economist was demoted for questioning the wisdom of defunding all police.

The call for a "Black House" was made in a public Facebook post on Rice's official Graduate Student Association (GSA) page, written by Rice graduate research assistant and GSA vice president of "Equity and Inclusion" Dani Perdue. "Here are what black undergraduate students have demanded from Rice Universuty [sic] administration," Perdue wrote. "I hope they are listening! #NoMoreLipService #blacklivesmatter."

The post also sought the "removal" of an iconic statue of university founder William Marsh Rice; the hiring of "more black professors, faculty, well-being counselors and therapists"; the inclusion of "hate speech" in Rice's code of conduct; and an increase in the number of black students accepted to Rice.

An Instagram account representing the Rice Black Student Association (BSA) has published a longer list of demands, including that "If a Black new student requests to have a Black roommate [during orientation week], that request be honored." That request could run afoul of federal civil rights laws.

READ THE STUDENTS' FULL DEMANDS

The Black House, according to the BSA's Instagram page, should have all the "features of a residential college" but be "specifically made for Black students and Black organizations to congregate and hold events. ... It would be best to have a central, safe space that Black students can meet and hangout in anytime of the day." It was not clear how this description would square with the Facebook post calling for a "non-residential" Black House; similar "affinity"-branded cultural centers at other universities do not generally have the same "features" as residential colleges.

The students also seek "better lighting for ID photos," noting that "many Black students have had significant issues with the photographs that are displayed on our student IDs. ... We deserve to be photographed and represented properly without having to make modifications and adjustments."

Moreover, the students assert, "course descriptions should include tags that indicate what race/ethnic/cultural groups are included since many course titles do not make it clear if they include diverse perspectives in their course material."

Milkessa Gaga and Kendall Vining, who are listed as contacts for the BSA-affiliated "working group" compiling demands to the university, did not immediately respond to Fox News' requests for comment.

After some Rice students on the GSA Facebook page started questioning whether the demand for a "Black House" amounted to a call for on-campus segregation, the president of the GSA, Alison Farrish, deleted some of the students' objections and then all other comments, according to messages reviewed by Fox News.

Farrish did not respond when asked by Fox News why she had deleted the comments. Eventually, the entire demand list vanished from the Facebook page.

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Rice University has a 'red' speech code rating from the nonprofit organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). According to FIRE, a "red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech."

Allen Porter, a Rice Ph.D. student, told Fox News he was "confused" when commenting was suddenly disabled because "the vast majority of the activity in the comments that I saw was civil discourse among Rice-affiliated persons (graduate students, alumni, etc.). Moreover, when commenting was disabled, I believe the only ongoing activity was in my comment thread."

Rice University's campus is located in Houston, Texas.

Rice University's campus is located in Houston, Texas. (Google Maps)

"I didn't and don't want to jump to any conclusions, but many of the comments -- again, mostly quite civil and mostly from persons affiliated with Rice -- expressed a critical or dissenting view of the poster/infographic relative to the implicit endorsement of it expressed in Dani Perdue's original post," Porter continued. "I don't want to speculate on Alison's intentions or motivations. All I can say is that I did not see sufficient disrespect in the comments to warrant erasing the much greater amount of respectful discourse that was recorded under the post."

Porter urged the "GSA to err on the side of permissiveness when it comes to regulating the comments on those posts."

"Intersectional 'progress' is going great."

— Author James Lindsay

Perdue and Rice University declined Fox News' requests for comment concerning the demands. For the most part, Perdue's social media feed mixes complaints about President Trump ("If Trump is elected again I will be the saddest I have ever been in my life," she wrote in February, "including the time when I found out Elmo wasn't real") with concerns about diversity among small groups in class ("My prof just picked 5 volunteers...all white men...come on," she said in 2013.).

Although Rice is a private university, it accepts federal funds that prevent it from officially endorsing racial discrimination.

While the university wouldn't comment on whether a Black House would be funded, the school has put out several statements concerning racial inequality in the wake of Floyd's death. For example, Rice President David W. Leebron told students that the school would be paying "increased attention to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at Rice and in our broader society."

Commentators, however, pointed to the episode as another instance of left-wing campus culture running amok.

"Intersectional 'progress' is going great," author James Lindsay remarked.

INSIDE AN EFFORT TO DEPLATFORM 'BLACK LIVES MATTER' CRITIC AT UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

Radio host Jesse Kelly wrote, sarcastically: "William M. Rice said Rice should be 'for whites only'. There’s still a statue of him on campus. That statue MUST come down and @RiceUniversity should be for black people only from now on. It’s the only way to make this right. #CancelRice."

Kelly has led ironic efforts to have all major universities "canceled," and to have them change their names -- noting that all of them historically were linked to slavery in some way. (The BSA, in its "demand" letter, asserts that the statue of Rice's founder must be removed because he was the "owner of 15 slaves during the mid-19th century." Curiously, the BSA letter does not demand that Rice change its name.)

For now, on-campus activists seem intent on fundamentally reshaping, rather than eliminating, universities and society at large. Black Lives Matter advocates for a "collective ownership" economic model, reparations and the "immediate release" of people convicted of drug offenses, in addition to defunding police forces and other left-wing agenda items.

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The movement has led to a tense atmosphere on campuses. Earlier this month, a California college professor reportedly was being investigated for discrimination and under police protection after refusing a request to exempt black students from final exams in the wake of Floyd's death.

UCLA suspended Gordon Klein, an accounting professor in the Anderson School of Business where he's been teaching for 39 years, for three weeks beginning on June 25 after he declined a student's request to delay a final exam in light of Floyd's death, the Free Beacon reported. Anderson School of Management Dean Antonio Bernardo sent an email to students calling Klein's behavior "troubling" and reportedly extended the time students have to complete exams given the "difficult circumstances."

At the University of Chicago, top economist Harald Uhlig was reinstated Monday, but only after he was fired from the Chicago Fed and temporarily demoted from his journal -- all because he criticized Black Lives Matter's push to defund the police, angering economists at other universities.

Fox News' Caleb Parke contributed to this report.