STORRS, CT (WFSB) – Two University of Connecticut students accused of shouting racial slurs outside a campus apartment building are now suing the school.
The students are accused of shouting the “n-word” but now they are both suing the school along with university leaders for violating their freedom of speech.
Many UConn students were horrified by a video showing the two students, identified as Ryan Mucaj and Jarred Karal, repeatedly shouting racial slurs outside the parking lot near a campus apartment complex.
The students were both charged with ridiculing someone based on race and they could also receive discipline from UConn.
The student’s lawyers say the school is considering removing them from university housing.
“I think it’s definitely good that people are taking things into consideration like we all knew about it and all knew that things were being done for it,” said Samantha Grubb, a UConn student.
On Tuesday, the students struck back at the school. Mucaj and Karal filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing the school has no right to discipline them and that UConn actually violated their first amendment rights.
“I think under well-established First Amendment law, the university is clearly in the wrong here,” said Adam Steinbaugh.
Adam Steinbaugh is a First Amendment lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, also known as FIRE.
Mucaj and Karal’s lawyers referred Channel 3’s questions to Steinbaugh because FIRE supports the students.
“You don’t arrest people just because their words were offensive,” Steinbaugh said.
UConn says the students violated the disruptive behavior provision of the school’s code of conduct, but Steinbaugh argues that because Karal and Mucaj were just shouting the slur and not targeting anyone, UConn can’t prove they were disruptive.
Although the “n-word” is offensive to Steinbaugh, he says it’s still protected speech.
“The university is a public institution, it is a government entity and the Supreme Court has long held that the government can’t ban particular words, even the most offensive words imaginable, simply on the basis that they’re offensive,” Steinbaugh said.
Another First Amendment lawyer believes the students will haven an uphill fight in court because courts have given public universities broad power to create codes of conduct.
Channel 3 reached out to UConn, but a university spokesperson says the school does not comment on pending litigation.