Turning Point USA responds to suspension with ‘Kinda Sus’ ad campaign


FIRE, working with Emerson’s chapter of TPUSA, hired a truck with the phrase “Emerson Kinda Sus” to circle Emerson’s Boston campus.

By Vivi Smilgius and Adri Pray

Months after being accused of propagating anti-Chinese rhetoric, Emerson’s chapter of Turning Point USA has mounted an advertising campaign targeting the college for “abandoning its promise of free speech.”

Emerson’s chapter of the conservative organization was briefly suspended for several weeks last fall, after community members alleged that the club’s promotional stickers reading “China Kinda Sus”—in reference to the popular multiplayer game “Among Us”—played into Sinophobic tropes. The controversy drew national headlines, even after the group’s on-campus status was restored weeks later. For its part, TPUSA continues to argue it was treated unfairly.

“[The sticker] has the symbol of the Chinese Communist Party on it, which should make it obvious it was referring to the Chinese government and not the Chinese people,” said Sam Neves, president of Emerson’s TPUSA chapter, in a video posted online. “After passing out the stickers, we were suspended the next day, without even contacting us first, or talking to us, without asking us for explanation.”

Neves went on to say the organization was forced to compete with the college— a “multi-million dollar organization.”

“When this all started we were just David against Goliath,” he said. “It was just us two random students against Emerson College.”

In response, TPUSA partnered with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to launch a campaign attacking the college’s perceived abuses. FIRE hired a billboard truck to circle the Boston campus with the slogan “Emerson Kinda Sus”—satirizing the college’s response to their own promotional material— and paid for advertisements at several Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority stops, including the Green Line’s Boylston Street station.

Emerson’s chapter of TPUSA did not respond to The Beacon’s request for comment. However, Adam Steinbaugh, the director of FIRE’s Individual Rights program, said the campaign sought to protest the college’s free speech policies.

“Emerson, in taking action against its TPUSA chapter, broke its promises of freedom of expression,” Steinbaugh said.“The display itself is intended to draw attention to the fact that Emerson made this decision knowingly. They were reminded of their free speech promises and decided to abandon them. That requires a response.”

Steinbaugh pushed back against the characterization of FIRE as a conservative organization, stating that the foundation’s mission is to protect free speech regardless of viewpoint.

“We’ve supported chapters of TPUSA and we’ve also supported people who got in trouble for flipping off members of TPUSA,” he said. “To us, it’s not about what is said, it’s about the right to say it.”

Nevertheless, many students saw the truck as nothing more than a childish response.

“The way [TPUSA] spread their message is immature,” said Emma Blanchet, a first-year visual media arts major, in a statement to The Beacon. “I’m not positive they deserved suspension, but I think they are being obnoxious and stupid with their decisions on what to act out upon. They need to be calmed down.”

The organization’s rash messaging, she added, was bound to be taken incorrectly.

Even with the targeted campaign, many Emerson students do not regret the college’s actions last fall.

“TPUSA is just a bully in a suit, so you have to treat it like one,” Emerson student Julia Federing wrote. “The worst thing you can do is inflate [the rhetoric] and cause it to trend. Then you’re feeding into the spectacle of it all instead of giving it the correct punishment and moving forward.”

Emerson Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Jim Hoppe declined to comment.