Fellow Vanderbilt Students,
As you probably know, there has been much debate recently about Vanderbilt’s non-discrimination policy, which prohibits student groups from having faith-based qualifications for leadership. Under this policy, registered student organizations (RSOs) are required to have their Constitution approved by Vanderbilt and sign an affirmation form saying they are in compliance with this non-discrimination policy. As Vanderbilt+Catholic’s leadership board, we would like to briefly explain why we have made the decision not to be a RSO next year and why we have been left with no other option. Our decision to be a non-registered student group next year is not one that we made lightly. However, after many hours of prayer and discussion, it has become clear that to sign this affirmation form, we would have to either lie to the university or compromise our integrity as an authentically Catholic group. Neither of these are things that we can do in good conscience.
Faith-based qualifications for leadership in Vanderbilt+Catholic are fundamental to our identity as a Catholic organization. As Catholics we believe that faith in Jesus Christ and the truths that He has revealed to us through the Catholic Church are fundamental to our identity as Catholics and our mission in this life. Likewise, as a Catholic student organization, Catholic faith and practice precede all else that we do. We are an open and welcoming community that people of all faiths can join, but we require our leaders to share this Catholic faith and practice. A student group led by those who do not share these things might be a very worthwhile and beneficial organization, but it would not be Catholic in the fullest sense of the word. These faith-based requirements for leadership are as important to the integrity of our organization as musical range is for a choral group.
Although it is true that we are a Vanderbilt organization, we are even more so a Catholic organization. When Catholic students come to Vanderbilt, they have a right to know that its Catholic group is in fact Catholic. They have a right to know that it truly is a group that supports the mission of the Church, and a place in which they can grow in their Catholic faith.
However, an important question to ask, and one that we discussed at great length, is “why can’t we just leave it to those who select our future leadership to use their own individual beliefs about what should be required of our leaders?” If we did this, it is true that we could ensure that future leadership would most likely be practicing Catholics. However, we are not an organization made up of people who all just happen to be Catholic. We are a Catholic organization. We are Catholic not just as individuals, but as a group, so just as we declare ourselves individually to be Catholic, we must declare ourselves collectively to be Catholic. And part of what this involves is requiring those who lead us and serve as our representatives on campus really believe the faith they are representing.
The Constitution that we would submit and the affirmation form we would have to sign to remain a RSO are more than just pieces of paperwork. They are statements of who we are as an organization. So, to sign this affirmation form would be to say that we really don’t have faith-based qualifications for leadership. It would be to lie to the university and to ourselves about who we are.
At least for next year, we will not be a registered student organization, but we still intend to strive towards our mission of proposing Jesus Christ and forming his disciples here at Vanderbilt. We are not sure exactly what that will look like for us as a non-registered student organization, but we are looking forward to working with the administration in order to stay as active as we can on campus. We still welcome all students to any of our events, and we hope that those who come will continue to find these events and this community to be authentically Catholic.
—The Vanderbilt+Catholic Board: PJ Jedlovec, President; Max Jones, Vice President; Cara Welker, Internal Secretary; Katy Biddle, External Secretary; Maddie Gray, Treasurer