The recent Senate Bill 1074, mentioned in a letter to the editor in the Feb. 28 issue of the Bullet, regarding student clubs’ right to ban members who do not align with their values, is still awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s decision. However, if this bill is passed, the implications for the University of Mary Washington will be virtually nonexistent.
The purpose of SB1074 is to protect religious or political minorities on campuses and uphold the right to assemble freely, safely and publicly. At other universities, there have been issues regarding disrespectful behavior because students join these clubs to ridicule or judge, making members uncomfortable.
Ideally, UMW’s Statement of Non-Discrimination should protect the clubs just as much as it protects the students’ right to join. Hate speech, hate crimes and other appalling acts are prohibited of course. However, what about those instances when it’s more subtle, and thus unworthy of judicial proceedings?
For instance, as chairman of College Republicans, I have noticed that our club has occasionally seen backlash from a small number of students on campus. We have historically held our meetings in Virginia Hall Parlor. Last year, two students entered our meetings every week and sat across the room, making snide comments and laughing. When our then chairman confronted them, the girls told us they did not have to leave. And they were right–they didn’t. So we just dealt with it week after week until they lost interest, and this year we opted to move our meeting place to avoid that situation.
I am also an active member of UMW’s Black Student Association, even though I am not black. UMW’s Statement of Non-Discrimination means they cannot ask me to leave their group. However, if black students on campus wanted their group to be exclusive–perhaps this club being their only escape from a campus dominated by white students–and they looked to ban me from their club, that should be their right. It is reasonable for them to want that private space. As a student who does not fit the very basic description for membership, I am not being discriminated against for being removed.
Furthermore, the significance of this bill largely targets religious groups across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Spirituality is both intimate and private; it is invasive to have outsiders present. I like to think we don’t have a tolerance problem at UMW because we tend to be very respectful, and hopefully religious groups here do feel secure.
Nonetheless, not every college across the Commonwealth fosters the same unbiased, accepting community we are privileged to have at UMW. Larger universities in particular are more at risk for intolerance because there is not a focus on the individual. This bill is not an attack on UMW’s Statement of Non-Discrimination and Diversity Inclusion policies, but rather protection for student groups who feel marginalized and alienated from the majority viewpoint.
Personally, I would hope that each university could be responsible for their diversity and inclusion discrepancies rather than having state government involvement but here we are. Nonetheless, the culture at UMW is one of integrity and respect. We are open-minded and actively invested in a community that fosters tolerance and understanding. SB1074 will not change that.
Elizabeth Brennan is the JRB president.