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More than 400 groups approved for recognized student organization status, comply with nondiscrimination policy

by | Apr. 23, 2012, 4:27 PM

Updated May 1, 2012

After several months of discussion about how Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy might affect groups applying to be registered student organizations for the 2012-13 academic year, the registration process ended earlier this week. More than 400 student groups have agreed to comply with the nondiscrimination policy and will be recognized as registered student organizations.

The policy requires that all Vanderbilt students must be eligible for membership in registered student organizations and that all members in good standing must be allowed to offer themselves for leadership positions. It does not require the election of certain students to leadership positions; leaders are chosen by the organizations themselves.

Twenty-seven religious student groups have qualified as registered student organizations. More than a dozen other religious organizations have said they are unwilling or unable to comply with the nondiscrimination policy.

Among the religious groups receiving registered student organization status are Presbyterian Student Fellowship; Vanderbilt Baptist Campus Ministries; Vanderbilt Hillel; Wesley/Canterbury Fellowship, a United Methodist and Episcopal student ministry; Commodores for Christ, a Church of Christ-affiliated organization; and Society of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the Catholic medical school organization.

Richard McCarty (Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt)

“We are pleased that Vanderbilt continues to offer our students a wide variety of registered student organizations that represent the diversity of our students and their interests. It is reassuring that many of our current religious organizations understand that our nondiscrimination policy poses no threat to their religious freedom. All along, we have stressed that the policy is about rejecting discrimination and not about restricting religious freedom. We firmly believe the two principles can coexist on the Vanderbilt campus, and are gratified that many of our religious student organizations agree,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard McCarty.

“Obviously, we are disappointed that some religious groups have either not applied for registered student status or submitted applications that do not comply with the policy. We will continue our conversations with them into the next academic year.

“These student groups continue to be welcome to meet on campus and can rent spaces through the Office of Reservations and Events. They may also communicate with students using the university’s email, through social media and certain bulletin boards and kiosks on campus,” McCarty said.

The university’s Benton Chapel will also continue to be available free of charge for worship services regardless of registered student organization status.

The university has received a total of 469 submissions from student groups seeking registered student organization status. Some groups, which submitted applications with technical problems that are expected to be corrected, will be registered in the coming days. Although the official application deadline has passed, the Office of the Dean of Students has said it will continue to accept applications into the summer months.

Registered student organization status allows groups to use the Vanderbilt University name to signify their institutional affiliation; be eligible to apply for funding from various institutional sources; participate in the university-sponsored student organization recruitment fair; use listservs, group mail, and URLs administered by the university, and other resources.

Questions about how the university’s nondiscrimination policy impacts student organizations arose in fall 2010 after an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation was made by a member of a registered student organization. As a result of that allegation, the Office of the Dean of Students sought to be sure that all student organizations were aware of their need to comply with the university’s nondiscrimination policy.

While the university has long had a policy designed to protect the entire Vanderbilt community – students, faculty and staff – against discrimination, it became evident that some students and student organizations had not fully understood or had misinterpreted the university’s nondiscrimination policy.

To remedy this, the university worked closely with those groups not in compliance to help them understand and meet the requirements of the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Additionally, the university held a town hall meeting to clarify the policy and to discuss student concerns about it.

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  • Paulsmith

    So, Vanderbilt chooses to discriminate against groups that in their view practice discrimination.  Isn’t that interesting!!??

  • Gary

    If I may have six paragraphs of your time:

    Religious communities are exactly that: religious communities. They have a unique identity that exists at a level broader than the individual, but smaller than that of a nation (or, the “public”, if you prefer). Thus, it is the semi-private level of human community.

    But if your policy says that they may not be true to their identity, which necessarily means a definition of what the group IS and IS NOT, then you are essentially refusing to allow them to function as religious communities in any meaningful sense. You are instead allowing only fan clubs built around a religious topic or idea.

    The concept of nondiscrimination policies is to make sure no one is excluded. The reason for this is to make sure nobody is excluded from a public arena. But as I’ve just explained, religious communities qua religious communities are NOT a public arena, but a semi-private social entity. And, as such, it falls outside the originally intended purview of nondiscrimination policies.

    Our globalized secular society today seems to have trouble with the concept of a social level other than the individual and the State (i.e. the private and public), and so based on ignorance of any possible levels in between, nondiscrimination policies are unfortunately rather often misapplied to forbid the existence of any semi-private social entities.

    I realize that this university is not actively forbidding these unrecognized groups from meeting, but this is one of those issues where there is no real middle ground. You either favor secularism by relegating these groups to being thematic rather than emblematic of their faith(s), or else you accept/tolerate/favor religion by allowing them to exist as actual religious groups with quirks that set them apart such as… what were they called? Oh right: beliefs.

    I would not think it right or fair to allow those who violate the beliefs of a religious community to exercise authority over said community. In fact, a group code of conduct may be reasonable. Though I am not Jewish, for instance, I think it would be reasonable for a Jewish club to forbid members from eating a ham and cheese sandwich while at group events.

    Thank you for your time.

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