UTHSC Sued in First Amendment Case on “Sexual” Social Posts

A University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) pharmacy student sued the university in federal court this week, alleging it violated her First Amendment rights for “crude” and “sexual” social media posts. 

Kimberly Diei filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the school Wednesday with help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The move came after the student was reprimanded by the school for some of her social posts, including comments on a trending discussion on Twitter about the song “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion.

In September 2019, a month after enrolling at UTHSC, the school received an anonymous complaint about Diei’s Instagram and Twitter accounts — and that she was now under investigation for that content, according to FIRE.

Diei went before the college’s Professional Conduct Committee (PCC). Although her accounts are operated under an alias, the committee said that she violated university policies because her posts were “crude” and “sexual.” The Professional Conduct Committee never told Diei exactly which school policies she violated nor which posts were in question, according to FIRE.

click to enlarge

  • Kimberly Diei UTHSC Student Courtesy of FIRE

“It’s just a matter of time before they come back for another investigation into my expression on social media,” said Diei, who is seeking her doctorate in pharmacy with an emphasis on nuclear pharmacy. 

Diei is backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  Diei’s suit argues that colleges cannot arbitrarily police a student’s personal expression outside of school and by doing so, violates her First Amendment rights.

“UT spied on my social media activity — activity that has no bearing on my success as a pharmacist or my education. I can be a successful and professional pharmacist as well as a strong woman that embraces her sexuality. The two are not mutually exclusive,” says Diei. 

Diei was required to write a letter reflecting on her behavior. She agreed, although she had reservations about the policy violating her First Amendment rights.

“It’s so important to me to just have my voice, because people that look like me are often told ‘be quiet, stay in the back,’ and that just does not suit my personality,” Diei said. “I’m not asking for approval. I’m asking for respect.”

August 2020, less than a year later, the committee investigated Diei again. They presented screenshots from her social media accounts. In one tweet, Diei contributed to a trending discussion on Twitter about the song “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, suggesting lyrics for a possible remix. In another, Diei referenced a popular Beyoncé song.

“The First Amendment protects the right of students to suggest lyrics for a Cardi B remix on Twitter and Instagram. Period,” said FIRE attorney Greg H. Greubel. “Kim is an authentic and successful woman, and FIRE believes that it is important to show the public that students like Kim are capable of being successful professionals while also being free to personally express themselves on social media. Kim is standing up for every American who hopes to have a personal life in addition to their professional life.”

A UTHSC official said Friday the school does not comment on pending litigation.