Now, Vanderbilt is asking about a dozen student organizations to comply with a policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The university has not identified the groups, but if they don't comply, school officials say they could lose access to funding and campus facilities. The university said in a statement it's committed to making the campus a "welcoming environment for all of our students."
But members of religion-based groups like FCA, Cru, and BUX (the Christian-based fraternity) say they are being unfairly singled out because of their beliefs. College Republicans President Stephen Siao says the university has "launched an assault on religious groups on campus."
This is personal to me becasue I was part of the FCA at Vanderbilt and because we have students from our church at the university now.
Below is a recent letter I sent to university officials.
I am a Vandy alum, B.A. Religious Studies 1975. I would like any updates or information about the new policy that is a cause of great concern to many of us.
While I uphold the value of equal opportunity for all, I also uphold the value of freedom for groups to organize according to the principles of their conscience. Vandy is a liberal arts institution that makes the claim that freedom of expression is paramount. Yet, this policy limits the freedom of applying organizational values that will insure the ongoing unique integrity of the groups. This new policy is an attempt to promote a so-called tolerance by being clearly intolerant to the values and convictions of others. The so-called anti-discrimination policy discriminates against the people who do not agree with the administration’s positions and values. So much for the free exchange of ideas.
This policy does not enhance my pride in our university. Instead, it causes great concerns.
I lead an organization that just encouraged a student to attend Vandy. The parents of this freshman at Vandy are now concerned about his choice of university. They are voicing their concerns to other parents who may choose to encourage their children to not consider Vandy. Surely, that would be a bad outcome for Vanderbilt University over the long term.
This policy will have a negative impact on the university's reputation in the eyes of a very large segment of our population in the USA. The "all comer's" policy seems to mean that traditional, conservative values are not welcome at Vanderbilt.On Tuesday night this week, Vandy held an open forum where students could share concerns and ask questions. I received an email from Clay Myatt, one of our CVCers who is considering joining BUCs, the Christian fraternity at Vandy. Clay was gracious enough to send an update from the student president of BUX. If you are interested, please read the lengthy report below and pray for God's people to love well while standing for truth.
A three hour meeting? That’s so long! I thought that the Provost and Vice Chancellor were respectful and thoughtful for staying so long, but it seemed like a lot of students and brothers left the building with questions that hadn’t been addressed—the discussion could’ve gone on for a lot longer. I personally was unable to get inside Furman, but was able to watch the Town Hall meeting from the live stream. If you were unable to be at the meeting for one reason or another, let me recap some of the main points from my perspective.
The biggest issue for all of the religious organizations was that we believe that we should have the right to limit leadership in our organizations to individuals who actually believe in the faith they are teaching and professing. Vanderbilt’s response was that their new ‘non-discrimination’ policy is actually an ‘all-comers’ policy; meaning that any student that wants to join any organization has the right to do so, and also the ‘opportunity’ to run for leadership in an open election. If someone happens to get elected to leadership that doesn’t believe the faith—that is the organization’s decision. One of the first good, pressing questions brought up (by our very own AC!) was, “if the president of the Muslim Students Association converted to Christianity over the summer, and in his new faith he believes he needs to proclaim the gospel to everyone, would Vanderbilt take action and protect the organization?” The response was, “no, that organization elected that individual. Those members could disband and reform under a new name.”
A lot of what was said in the meeting was confusing. You would hear the Provost answer a question saying “this policy is quite simple,” and then later hear the Vice Chancellor answer a question saying, “well, it’s a little complicated.” An idea of adding a religious-exemption was brought up, but the Vice Chancellor responded by saying ‘having any sort of exemption wouldn’t make it an all-comers policy. Exemptions and all-comers can’t coexist."
When describing the nature of the all-comers policy, it just didn’t make sense to me (and seemingly everyone else). Does this mean that any man could go join the woman’s basketball team? Can a student who really wants to be a part of the Honor Society join even though he doesn’t have a 3.5 GPA? They responded saying that there are performance requirements that can be used as a stipulation to join certain organizations. A performance exemption is ok.
They flat out contradicted their whole idea of an ‘all-comers’ policy right in front of us. They won’t make a religious exemption for their policy because their policy wouldn’t be all-comers, but they will make a performance exemption and that will be considered all-comers.
There were a lot of emotions in the room, especially when Jordan Rodgers expressed his concern. The City Paper recorded what Jordan said:
"If someone [running for leadership] doesn't share the faith that is being taught, what's the point of having these organizations?" asked Rodgers, an active member of the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Williams responded by saying members of the FCA could collectively choose not to elect a non-Christian — but that person should at least have the opportunity to run for office. Rodgers conceded that a non-person-of-faith wouldn't be elected.
"If we're jumping through the hoops of your policy as a facade, what's the point?" Rodgers said. Williams acknowledged that the school wouldn't make exceptions to the policy for faith-based organizations and that he understood the opposition.
The last line in that excerpt accurately describes the main message and takeaway from the meeting: Vanderbilt acknowledges our belief that those who lead our religious organizations must believe in what they are professing, but Vanderbilt values their all-comers policy more. It is good that Vanderbilt has publicly taken their stance, but the stance in itself is not good. And we still don’t exactly know what this all-comers policy truly means due to the panel contradicting itself, but we know it isn’t in favor of the religious groups on campus.
I am unsure about all of you guys, but I left feeling super frustrated. With all of the hype surrounding the town-hall meeting, everyone’s energy levels were really high. Then to hear the administrators communicate, “we value our policy more than your beliefs” and asking us, as religious organizations, to “take a leap of faith, and try it out,” that was definitely saddening, frustrating, and somewhat insulting. I think the thing that stood out the most for me was hearing the Provost say, “I am Catholic, but do I let my beliefs dictate how I make daily decisions? Of course not!”
The core of our faith imply that all our decisions, and the way we live life are founded in how Jesus calls us to live; the Provost just doesn’t understand this. He doesn’t understand why we live each day in faith. And, in all honesty, the reason is that we follow the One whom the world just doesn’t understand: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” –John 1:10-11. How can we, as followers, be understood if the world didn’t recognize Jesus, the one we’re following? This is probably why Peter describes believers as “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). What is happening here on campus is way bigger than just implementing a new policy. It’s an example of Jesus being so inexplicably unfathomable to the world.
After spending time with the Lord, getting some sleep, and having a meeting with Pat Helland this morning, I’m feeling a lot better. Upon arriving for our meeting, Pat explained how her morning has been very busy receiving calls from all over about what the all-comers policy means, and specifically for Greek Life. Greek Life is huge, and there is no way that fraternities and sororities can be in compliance with the new policy.
For example, if 40 girls rush a sorority, and if the sorority is looking for 20 girls, they currently have the privilege to choose whichever 20 girls they like (without discrimination, of course). If the all-comers policy was instituted, the first 20 girls that showed up to the House would have to be accepted because anyone can join any organization, and the sorority wouldn’t have a say—membership would be open to anyone. This doesn’t work. Pat told Jason and me that there is no way that the University could institute an all-comers policy. She gave an example and told me, "It just doesn’t make sense that you would go join the women’s’ basketball team."
She said the first she heard of an all-comers policy was yesterday before the meeting started. Wow. How can the Office of the Dean of Students, the individuals working with different religious student organizations for the past year, accurately guide the organizations towards adopting a policy that she didn’t even know about? In the rest of our meeting with Pat we talked about our constitution, our doctrinal statement, and code of conduct. There are still points within our documents that would need to be altered, so Jason will be taking that to BYX’s Board of Directors. But the main takeaway I got this morning from Pat is that Vanderbilt still doesn’t know what they are doing!
“A year of debate over nondiscrimination and religious freedom will culminate on Tuesday,” is how the Hustler described the Town Hall meeting. Guys, I would argue that this is just the beginning. People are finally starting to see and learn about what is going on at Vanderbilt. FoxNews has been blowing up with stuff on this issue. Heck, Jason was able to get an op-ed published!
Next weekend, February 9-10th, the Vanderbilt Board of Trust will be meeting at school. Communicated by the panel last night, and also by Pat this morning, the Board is the ultimate decision maker for any policy implemented. Student leaders of FCA, Cru, CLS, GCF, Navs, MCF, Vandy Catholic, Intervarsity, and other religious organizations on campus are meeting tomorrow night to discuss how we will continue to raise awareness and ways to share our hearts and stance amongst members of the Board before next weekend. I will make sure to keep you all updated on any form of organized student action that we decide to take.
Lastly, we have gotten word, through kinda random Vandy alumni, that the administration is tracking all contacts from alumni. Those who calling the administration are being asked to email in any concerns/complaints that they may have, and that all emails are being tracked/noted by the administration. With all of the hype yesterday, we still want to show Vanderbilt that their responses in the Town Hall meeting haven’t changed our stance on their all-comers policy. If you know of alumni who aren’t getting connected through our alumni listserve or your parents, please tell them to email email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and richard.mccarty@Vanderbilt.edu! The administration needs to know the concerns from alumni of the Vanderbilt community.