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Our university, in expelling a student who verbally harassed his roommate, has erred by penalizing the student for doing what he surely has a right to do: speak his mind.

Q1) Are the word "student"s in the sentence the same student?

Q2) I am having problem understanding the sentence.

Does the sentence mean the student verbally harassed his roommate, but it is still not right to penalize the student because he has right to speak his mind? Or does it mean that the student was expelled, but it turned out that he actually did not verbally harass others, but just spoke his mind?

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The answer to question 1 is yes, and the answer to question 2 is that your first interpretation is perfectly correct: the student has done something bad in verbally harassing his roommate, but it is the opinion of the speaker that the university has nonetheless erred in expelling the harasser for doing so.

More specifically, for question 1, the definite article on "the student" in the second clause, coupled with the fact that the student has been introduced for the first time in the previous part of the sentence (with the indefinite article "a"), makes it certain that they are one and the same.

For question 2, in order to make your second interpretation correct, the sentence would have to be written like this instead:

Our university, in expelling a student who allegedly verbally harassed his roommate, has erred in their assessment that his speech constituted harassment: he was just speaking his mind.

The biggest clue to me that the speaker means your first interpretation and not your second is that the first clause of your sentence presents "verbally harassed his roommate" as a fact.

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Yes, both refer to the same student. When there is ambiguity about who you mean, and you don't want to use names, you will usually use the same noun to describe that person. Here "the student" verbally harassed his roommate, who is likely also another "student", but to distinguish them you would say "the student" and "the roommate".

Example:

The teacher gave a surprise gift to her colleague by placing it in the colleague's desk.

Or you could say "the first student", "the second student" and so on, as in one of my favorite "engineer" jokes.

Two engineering students were walking through the campus. The first student turned to the second student and said "Hey, where did you get that nice bike?"

The second student replied, "Well, you'll never believe it, but I was walking along, minding my own business, when a female student rode up on this bike, threw it down, tore off all her clothes, and shouted, 'Take anything you want from me!'"

The first student nodded. "Yeah, good choice. The clothes probably wouldn't have fit anyway."

Anyway, given this you should be able to get the meaning of the sentence. The author says that "the student" was merely exercising his right to speak his mind, and shouldn't be punished.

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