Should an Org's Exclusiveness Preclude University Funding?

The Student Regulations Review Committee recently recommended policy changes that would bar funding of student organizations that discriminate in their membership and events that exclude any campus groups. Though the groups would still be allowed to use campus facilities, they would only receive funding for events open to the whole campus. Should such a policy be allowed to stand?

Marianne Madden, Opinion Editor: Yes, I think it’s a good policy that should stand. Campus groups should learn that discriminating when it comes to their members is not a good thing to do.

Hanna Camp, Associate Opinion Editor: Except that all groups do that. A student group generally has a specific purpose for existing and goals they’d like to accomplish beyond the “meet and greet” social aspect. If a student’s presence will only disrupt things, a group is perfectly within its rights to kick them out, and they shouldn’t have to sacrifice their funding to retain that right.

MM: But who says certain people are there to disrupt things? I can easily see a non-Christian person checking out a Christian club if they want to learn about Christianity, meet new people, or simply hang out with a different group. Also, I disagree with your assertion that most or all groups are exclusive to a certain extent. Group members are largely self-selecting: A person who doesn’t mesh with the group eventually drops out. But that doesn’t mean that student organizations should actively exclude members or have a policy that only allows a certain type of person to join.

HC: If a non-Christian wanders into a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting, I guarantee you they’re not going to want to exclude him or her. They want people to learn about Christianity. But if that person ends up constantly disrupting the group’s activities, even if it’s just by asking a bunch of questions during the quiet prayer time, the group may not be willing to change everything to accommodate this person.

To address the point about self-selection, that certainly goes into effect. But we all know there are assholes out there who just don’t know when to quit. Beyond that, there are issues of determining what kind of person you want to have associated with your group. Imagine you’re a member of Asian and Pacific Islanders Student Association, and you discover that another member sent the Guardian a letter that contains a bunch of racial slurs and denigrates all non-Asian races. You’d probably want that guy kicked out posthaste.

MM: Sure. The situation you describe is kicking out a person who deserves to be kicked out, just like a disruptive student deserves to be kicked out of a class but shouldn’t lose their right to attend third grade. But the existence of a few jerks shouldn’t prelude a wholesale policy against certain people. And as I implied before, a racist person probably wouldn’t have the patience to sit through APSA meetings, and the editors of the newspaper would smell a rat when a racist letter was submitted and subsequently not print it, or check with the president of APSA.

HC: I agree, but the issue is: Did APSA discriminate? I would argue they did. They excluded someone based on his ideology, just like the Christian groups in question discriminate against those who hold non-Christian ideologies. Should the committee discover this, it would seem to meet the definition of discrimination needed for denying funding.

MM: I don’t see it as discrimination; I see it as necessary action. The guy proved he didn’t respect the group, nor deserve to be in it. I’ve seen jerky people like that be forced out of campus groups all the time. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure — but it happens, and it’s subtler than having a policy against certain people. And what are campus groups going to do, make new members sign a loyalty oath or express their ideologies in writing? Should potential APSA members sign a statement that they will fight for the progress of Asian and Pacific Islanders? That’s pretty silly.

I guess I brought up the fact that discrimination by groups is a lot subtler than it could be, because the heads of certain groups are pretty wily. It’s no accident that certain groups only give out rave cards to certain people on Library Walk, and each sorority and fraternity has a certain type of member. I would like those groups to be more open. People learn from inclusive groups, and they become insular when they hang out with people who are exactly like them.

HC: But that’s exactly the point. Discrimination can come as an active policy or simply as unconscious preferences for certain types of people, and this policy doesn’t specify which type can precipitate loss of funding. You can wish that fraternities and groups be more inclusive, but this policy change is being proposed because the UC Hastings College of Law refused to fund a certain Christian group that “did not agree to accept members who openly opposed Christian beliefs.” Except that they should be able to refuse such people. That’s not like denying a group money because it refuses to invite everyone to the party. That’s like citing it for turning away potential members that show up with a cap gun in hand.

MM: It’s not like the board targeted this Christian group. The Christian group was just extremely open about their policy of discrimination. And how is checking out a Christian organization as a non-Christian analogous to going to a party with a cap gun? It’s not necessarily a sign you’re aiming to disrupt the group — at all. And aren’t Christians supposed to be accepting of people, and evangelical Christians happy to try to convert nonbelievers?

HC: The group still can let the guys come to the meeting — if they behave themselves. But it doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t have to put them on the membership roll.

MM: I suppose not. But it’s unfair to exclude a huge group of people, like all non-Christians, because of those fears. Plus, the way Student Organizations Leadership Opportunities (S.O.L.O.) is structured, four or five principal members of the organizations submit their names and contact information to S.O.L.O. at the beginning of the quarter, and it is those principal members who are responsible for the group. A disruptive person who comes to one or two meetings will not become affiliated with the group.

The idea behind the policy is that the university shouldn’t endorse discrimination — any sort of discrimination — by its students by giving these groups money. The university shouldn’t have to pay for groups who are xenophobic — this is college.

HC: But excluding non-Christians from a Christian group isn’t xenophobic. As discrimination goes, it’s mild at best. If all groups discriminate in their membership in some way — and they do — then a policy that would deny funding to a Christian group like this one but not a fraternity is hypocritical. As an agnostic, if I joined the Atheists, Agnostics and Free Thinkers Group and a few weeks later a very earnest evangelical Christian asked to join, I’d vote not to let him in. It’s not that I hate evangelicals, it’s just that I didn’t join the group to debate with believers, I joined to talk with fellow nonbelievers.

MM: I agree that not limiting funding to Greek organizations, which are admittedly “traditionally discriminatory,” isn’t fair. I suspect it’s because Greeks nationwide have a lot of lobbying power. As for an evangelical Christian infiltrating an agnostic/atheist group, I’d love to see that happen. The person would receive the ultimate cold shoulder from all the people who really do have a stake in the group, and then disappear, never to be seen again. That’s self-selection. And I bet that would happen even if the agnostics had a written policy against religious types — any old student can still check out any club meeting they want.

HC: First off, I don’t think it would play out that way. Atheists and agnostics generally can’t let a “Jesus loves you” statement slide. I imagine what would happen is that people would get sidetracked, meeting after meeting, and that’s exactly what I didn’t want. That’s why you sometimes have to lay down the law about who joins and who doesn’t.

Second of all, if the scenario you proposed did play out, then that’s discrimination as sure as if you had a formal policy. What prevents the new funding rule from applying to that type of discrimination?

MM: What else would atheists and agnostics do at meetings, besides discuss religious beliefs? Have a lot of premarital sex?

And an evangelical Christian quitting the group isn’t discrimination. It’s someone willingly leaving the group, just like someone might leave a group when they go abroad. In that case it’s the choice of the person, not the policy of the organization, which is very different.

HC: But if the Christian one day asks to be one of the principal members, it’s entirely within reason for the group to say, “Sorry, but your beliefs aren’t the kind we want.”

MM: Regardless of whether groups can gain from implicitly or explicitly excluding people, the separate issue still stands of whether the university should fund closed groups. And it’s worth pointing out that such exclusive groups would still receive funding for events open to the whole campus, and have use of campus facilities. Those are huge loopholes.

HC: And their existence suggests to me that the university knows it can’t succeed in rooting out discrimination among groups. We have so many for a reason. What the committee is trying to do is punish only a few groups who practice a form of discrimination they find a little more annoying than others. But the fact that it looks like the Christian group is being oppressive at first glance doesn’t make it so: It’s not really doing anything other groups don’t do. So I can’t support the proposed policy.

MM: Well, it depends on the group. But I would hope that a respectful non-Christian would be able to go to meetings of a Christian organization, be open about their own beliefs, and start a dialogue about religion. Christians in a Christian group would, I hope, be secure enough in their beliefs to have an honest discussion with an atheist, Muslim, Jew, etc. And that’s why I support open membership policies and universities holding back some funding and resources to groups that practice discrimination.