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VIDEO: Religious students distribute video player opposing university policy - The Vanderbilt Hustler: News

VIDEO: Religious students distribute video player opposing university policy

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Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 12:30 pm | Updated: 4:48 pm, Wed Apr 18, 2012.

Religious and conservative political groups are increasing pressure on Vanderbilt University ahead of this week's Board of Trust meeting to reverse its position on the school's all-comers policy, which requires all registered student groups to have open membership and leadership policies, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and religion.

Members of the campus Christian community distributed 4,000 video players mid-day Wednesday to spread the message that faith-based leadership is important to religious groups on campus. 

The six minute video features students, alumni donors, professors and a former head of Vanderbilt admissions, all expressing disagreement with the university's enforcement of the policy. 

"It's a lack of common sense," said Alex Whitmore, junior and president of Beta Upsilon Chi. "It would make sense that an organization should be able to appoint their leaders based on the core beliefs of that organization."

According to junior Pieter Valk, an organizer of the event, the media players were donated by a concerned individual with connections to the university. The cost of 4,000 players is estimated at $32,000. 

In an email statement, Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Beth Fortune said it's unfortunate that some students have misinterpreted the policy.

"As we’ve repeatedly said, this debate isn’t about religious freedom; it’s about nondiscrimination, and we believe those principles are not in conflict," Fortune said.

The demonstration is the first in a series of student planned events designed to spread opposition to the policy. A barbecue lunch with members of the Board of Trust and a group prayer over the board meetings is planned for the next two days. 

Restore Religious Freedom at Vanderbilt, a conservative activist group, has purchased television advertisements in both the Nashville and Memphis markets, targeting Board of Trust members and university donors.

The media pressure comes after a coalition of eleven religious student groups, calling themselves Vanderbilt Solidarity, submitted applications in early April for registered status with constitutions containing faith-based requirements for leadership in an act of protest against Vanderbilt's all-comers policy.

Watch media player video:

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  • Cat Majors posted at 1:59 pm on Fri, Apr 20, 2012.

    cat majors Posts: 2


    In my opinion, we really haven't been given any reasoning why Vanderbilt allows for Greeks to be selective. In the town hall meeting, a senior female brought this point up and Vice Chancellor Williams responded by saying "so I think to the fact that Greek organizations will not allow people to join for whatever reasons run afoul of a true all-comers policy." He then followed that statement by saying that "if in fact, we take the choice as a university to create that exception, then we are duty-bound to look at other exceptions as well."

    From his statements, the Vice Chancellor clearly acknowledged that Greek organizations are not in line with an all-comers policy. Clearly one of my organizations is being given this exception, while another one is not, despite the fact that the university is "duty-bound" to look into an exception for us.

    The living together thought is an interesting one I hadn't thought of. I certainly see your point and understand what you are saying. However, in all other living situations on campus other than Greek and Living-Learning Communities, we do not get to select who we live with (other than those on my housing ballet). Freshman year we get almost no choice at all. I definitely understand your argument, but if the administration isn't taking my preferences in housing into account like that for normal housing situations, I doubt that is their reasoning here....I suppose it could be though.

  • C.P. Stanford posted at 1:11 pm on Thu, Apr 19, 2012.

    Wote Posts: 5


    Thanks for explaining things there. So, I guess my follow-up question is this: what reasoning has Vanderbilt (officially) given for allowing Greeks to be selective, and has it applied these policies across the board if other organizations meet similar criteria? Because, as a former McGillite who took part in our own selections process, one big difference I can see between the organizations that are part of the Vanderbilt Solidarity movement and organizations like Greek Life or the McGill Project is that the latter are (or can be for some members) residential in nature.

    In such circumstances, personal compatibility becomes much more of an issue, since disruptive neighbors would directly affect the academic performance of residents. There are also issues of personal safety, which an "all-comers" policy would not allow for, but would still be a concern for both residents and Vanderbilt's administration.

    Bear in mind, though, that I'm mostly basing this off my experiences in McGill. I must confess a lack of knowledge with regard to the details of Greek Life, having favored my "dirty hippie" dorm. If I've made any assumptions about the concerns and nature of the Greek selection process that are incorrect, please do set me right.

  • Cat Majors posted at 10:16 am on Thu, Apr 19, 2012.

    cat majors Posts: 2


    I'm sorry for the confusion with my statement, so allow me to explain more fully my point. While I realize the examples I used in the video are silly examples of selective membership, my point still stands. As a Greek leader here at Vanderbilt, I know the how recruitment works. Each sorority has a very defined set of criteria that they use in selecting new members. While these criteria may or may not be based on hair color or conversation skills, they are criteria nonetheless that are based on a set of values inherent to that group, and we use these values to cut lovely girls from our houses each January. Each group has a different set that is closely related to their ritual, so I can't talk about it in a video, so I used silly examples. However, the point of my statement was that Greek organizations select who they offer bids to for membership (not even leadership). That is not consistent with an all-comers policy.

    And to C.P.,

    Yes, under Title IX Vanderbilt has the option to grant exceptions for sex based groups. Title IX by no means mandates that they must grant this exception, and technically to be consistent with an all-comers policy where ALL people are able to join ANY organization, granting this exception doesn't make much sense. And further, as I said above, even with the Title IX exception, Greek organizations are not compliant with the policy.

    Don't get me wrong. I love Greek life, and my sorority has been one of the highlights of my college career. I by no means want Greek life to be removed from campus. The only point of using Greek life in our discussion is to highlight that Vanderbilt really isn't using an all-comers policy.

  • C.P. Stanford posted at 4:36 am on Thu, Apr 19, 2012.

    Wote Posts: 5


    So far as I can tell, the only niche that has been carved out for Greek organizations in the policy is with regard to sex. I'm looking here at the "Student Handbook" published on Vanderbilt's website [1]. If you have other reliable sources, please share them.

    From the way it is argued in the student handbook, it appears that the crux of this policy is bringing Vanderbilt in line with federal legislation that--while not necessarily applicable to student organizations--Vanderbilt must comply with in other areas. Simply put, Vanderbilt's administration is attempting to apply the same set of rules to all levels of University life. Those rules (the Federal ones, recall) *do* allow an exemption for same-sex organizations (such as Greek Life). I am not a lawyer, and so I cannot tell you if Vanderbilt can disregard that exemption if they so choose. However, I do not see an inconsistency in permitting an exemption for single-sex organizations, so long as it is applied to non-Greek organizations as well.

    Regardless, the fact remains that one exemption does not mean that all others are on the table. As I said, the exemption for single-sex organizations *is* part of the federal law with which Vanderbilt is trying to be in harmony with this policy. Does that make it fundamentally different from all other forms of discrimination? No. However, it does mean that groups that wish to select based on those grounds have a more solid position to argue from than others, and have done so successfully.

    Now, I cannot speak on the subject of how this policy applies to the capability of Greek organizations to refuse and offer membership, as the published policy does not go into it. So, if you (or anyone else) can provide me with information on that front, I would be most appreciative.


  • Steve Spam posted at 1:52 am on Thu, Apr 19, 2012.

    concerned student Posts: 3

    While this issue is complex (one that certainly does not lend itself to constructive dialogue on an anonymous message board), the concerns with the policy discussed in the video seem pretty straightforward to me.

    So what actually happened here that sparked this remarkable grass-roots, student-led movement that is teaching all of us old folks a thing or two about civil disobedience? Well, first the University announces an "all-comers" policy. Then the administrative leaders state at a town hall meeting that this "bedrock principle" will most definitely apply to all student organizations equally. Then these leaders and the PR folks at Vandy regurgitate this message over and over again, citing the importance of allowing every student the opportunity to be a member and potential leader of every organization, regardless of, well, really anything (this does not resemble any organization in the real world, by the way). Then these leaders quickly recognize the political/financial implications of destroying Vanderbilt's Greek system with this "all comers" policy. Then these leaders grant a massive exception to Greek organizations (except the religious ones) to discriminate both in terms of leadership AND membership. Then in a telling interview with a local newspaper, these leaders cite the "tradition" of Greek organizations as the reason for allowing them to blatantly violate the policy (I'm not making this up). Then several concerned students point out this inconsistency to these leaders--among many other legitimate concerns with the policy--and hear crickets in response. Meanwhile, the Board of Trust appears to be woefully uninformed about what is actually going on. In response to all of this, these students realize that consistency is important, as are organizational creeds, so they organize and this is the result.

    Underlying this fascinating story is a thoughtful, rich dialogue among many students and faculty on campus about individualism versus pluralism, the role of creeds in faith-based organizations, and the legal protections afforded to private universities like Vanderbilt, even when these private universities take millions and millions of dollars in federal/state dollars through NIH grants and lottery scholarship funds. I hope the Board of Trust finally takes note of all of this.

  • nicole nick posted at 11:12 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    Peabodygrad Posts: 11

    Dear Cat Majors (in the video), sororities don't discriminate on the basis of hair color. Nor do sororities judge a woman solely on her conversations during recruitment.
    I'm wondering if all the hubbub will die down after the next Board of Trust meeting--or will this be a continual issue for a long time? The way I see it (which I know is definitely not how others see it), if you want a leader who shares your religion, and you want to be sure of that, go to a bonafide House of God. There are plenty within walking distance of VU. If you want to have fellowship with others, let them join your group and at the very least consider them for a leadership position. No one is taking away your church, CRU or Navigators or other organizations--your religious freedom is not at stake here. You may still go to church all you want!

  • Peter Kurilecz posted at 10:28 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    PeterK Posts: 1

    "How many members of Vanderbilt's Board of Trust are members of the Belle Meade Country Club, "

    has no bearing on this matter since the US Constitution guarantees the right of free association. Vandy on the other hand is not a private club like BMCC.

    now another way of tackling this issue would be for the various Christian groups have their members join groups like the Muslim Students Association, the LGBT group or whatever and put forth a slate of officers to run the organizations. then what could the U do?

    "After the group prayer has no effect will people accept that God does not disapprove of the policy?"
    boy that is really intelligent response. ;-0

  • C.P. Stanford posted at 10:16 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    Wote Posts: 5

    Your sarcasm notwithstanding, if you want to have a conversation about this that deals with the actual issues, I'm all ears. It's an interesting situation, and deserves to be discussed in an even-handed manner. Otherwise, we just wind up arguing in circles, nothing is resolved, and the next time this sort of things comes up, we have to rehash the early stages again.

  • Tucker Light posted at 9:25 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    tucklight Posts: 4

    CP - you are a very smart person. No sir, I will not argue with you. It is clear you are a person full of knowledge. It is clear you know many things. Fact is, you probably know it all. So with that in mind, I won't even try.

    You da man.

  • Sam S. posted at 6:57 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    ss92 Posts: 5

    C.P is right, lol. Formally called an ad hominem argument.

  • C.P. Stanford posted at 5:42 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    Wote Posts: 5

    Because it doesn't matter. A policy is a policy, and the moral character of those enforcing it should not be to topic so much as the validity of the policy.

    A bad rule is bad because it's bad, even if good people came up with it. A good rule is good because it's good, even if bad people came up with it.

    Argue with me all day about the nature of the rules themselves, but the nature of those rules is not dependent on the character of its executors.

  • Tucker Light posted at 5:33 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    tucklight Posts: 4

    CP Stanford - maybe you are right - Who cares if the policy is full of hypocrisy.

    Saying one thing and doing another. What was I thinking.

    WAIT - I know what I was thinking. I told the truth. That's what I was thinking.

  • Sam S. posted at 5:03 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    ss92 Posts: 5

    I was sympathetic to these guys before today, I really was. I saw the argument. But after today, I'm infuriated, and this is ridiculous. The decision has been made, the policy will have no tangible impact on these organizations, and this video is dramatic to the point of entertainment (I LOVE TOUR GUIDING BUT I CANT DO IT ANYMORE ITS TOO HARD FOR ME OH NOOOO!!!!). To those making the video: yes, leadership does matter. I don't disagree. But allowing more people to RUN/APPLY for leadership DOES NOT. The same leaders will be selected by each organization (I'm not Christian; watch what will happen if I try to run for office for Vandy Catholic. Hint: It won't work out, whether or not this policy is in place). I also haven't seen a single student (literally) react positively to the distribution of the media players, with the exception of those overjoyed by the fact that they can delete the included video and keep the free player. If anything, I think it may have had the opposite effect -- making this organizations look rather stupid and wasteful. Want to be real Christians? Donate the next $32,000 to people actually in need across this world, instead of protesting a change that has no real effect on your organizations and ultimately has already been decided.

  • C.P. Stanford posted at 4:35 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    Wote Posts: 5

    Tucker, I don't see what the point of that would be.

    Just because a policy is hypocritical on the part of those enforcing it is not, in and of itself, a valid argument against that policy. Certainly, it does indicate that those individuals should be either removed from their position, or at least held to a higher standard, but it no more reflects the validity of the decision than any other ad hominem.

  • Bart Simpson posted at 4:32 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    VandyOhMyGodYes Posts: 3

    After the group prayer has no effect will people accept that God does not disapprove of the policy? They should.

  • Tucker Light posted at 3:49 pm on Wed, Apr 18, 2012.

    tucklight Posts: 4

    Question: How many members of Vanderbilt's Board of Trust are members of the Belle Meade Country Club, one of the most discriminatory organizations in the state of Tennessee.

    Belle Meade Country Club - do you research and see how many Vanderbilt decision makers are members.