Fordham Demands Apology For Student's Tiananmen Protest

Austin Tong is refusing to back down after posting a photograph in which he criticized China's Tiananmen Square massacre

Fordham University / Screenshot from Twitter
July 23, 2020

A New York City college has barred a Chinese immigrant from campus and demanded he apologize for posing with a legally owned rifle in a social media post that criticized China for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Fordham University administrators are demanding that rising senior Austin Tong submit an apology letter to the school by July 23 after he posted to Instagram a photo that shows him holding a firearm in honor of the Tiananmen Square protests, according to a disciplinary letter from the school. Tong risks suspension or expulsion if he refuses to apologize.

The school is arguing that the photograph ran afoul of its commitment to combat bias and hate crimes. D. Keith Eldredge, Fordham's dean of students, said Tong will not be welcome on campus regardless of whether he attends the university-sanctioned "implicit bias" training demanded of him under the disciplinary letter.

Tong says his photograph, which shows him holding an AR-15 rifle pointing at the ground, with the caption "Don't tread on me," did not pose a threat to fellow students. In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, he said he has no plans to apologize.

"I will not apologize. I did nothing wrong and they did everything wrong," he said. "[Fordham is] a total disgrace. I will not apologize, whatever consequence there may be. I don't think I'll even be able to finish college. This is a total bet on my part, but we'll see what happens."

University officials showed up at the student's home unannounced at approximately 10 p.m. to let him—and his parents—know he had violated the school's code of conduct, Tong said. He is now banned from the campus and will have to complete his degree online.

Tong's lawyer is preparing a lawsuit against Fordham University, which they may file in the upcoming weeks. The student's lawyer, Brett Joshpe, claims that the school smeared Tong's reputation and permanently damaged his future career prospects.

"For a mere $50,000 a year in tuition, Fordham has smeared our client's reputation and permanently damaged his career prospects," Joshpe told the Free Beacon. "This behavior by the school and its officials shocks the conscience and there should be a heavy price to pay."

Tong has won the support of gun-rights activists. The National Rifle Association released a video highlighting the university's actions. The rising senior implores other students and immigrants to join the NRA and stand up for their gun rights in the video.

"Thankfully, America’s oldest civil-rights group—the National Rifle Association of America—came to my defense," Tong said in the video. "Me, my fellow five million NRA members, Students for 2A, and the tens of millions of gun owners will never stop fighting for the Second Amendment."

NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter called Tong a "victim of intolerance."

"Under no circumstances should he be attacked by gutless keyboard troopers or penalized by his university because of his support of the Second Amendment," she said. "It’s absolutely shameful that anyone would condemn him for supporting the Bill of Rights. Fordham University owes Mr. Tong a full apology."

Tong said that he does not consider himself an activist. Instead, he views himself as somebody who has been put in a bad situation by his school and is unwilling to back down because he believes he’s done nothing wrong.

"I just think of myself as a student," Tong told the Free Beacon. "There are thousands of people across the world who have reached out to me and they have all sorts of backgrounds and stories about how they were silenced, how they were bullied, how their university silenced them. When I saw that, I felt something within me."

He said his goal is to ensure other students do not have to face punishment for their legally owned firearms.

"I do think that I'm not going to label myself as an activist," Tong said. "I'm just someone that wants to take this opportunity."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education penned a letter to the university's president calling for the reversal of Tong's disciplinary probation. The letter's author, Lindsie Rank, told the Free Beacon that the group will fight back against Fordham's refusal to comply with their free-expression code.

"Private universities that promise free expression to their students have to live up to that promise," Rank said. "That, in our opinion, becomes a contractual obligation that they've made with their students."

Tong said the university's actions appear hypocritical in light of the recent violent protests in New York City. He said that Fordham has not condemned or taken any action against students who have harassed and harmed police officers. The university has remained silent about alum Urooj Rahman, who faces federal charges after being caught on camera torching a cop car.

"[Fordham] is very hypocritical and they don't denounce anything that [liberal] students do," Tong said. "One [Fordham alum] threw a molotov cocktail out of a car. You have students supporting hurting police and hurting businesses and Fordham turned a blind eye."

Tong immigrated from China in 2005, but the America he dreamed of looks entirely different to him now. The young student said America's college campuses look more like the Soviet Union than the American dream.

"For me, as an immigrant, it is a disappointment to see the country like this because this is not what people expect when they hear about the American dream," he said. "This is not the American dream, this is a Soviet nightmare."