SG deliberates on Student Leaders for Racial Justice club approval

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Photo by Anthony Mazur

On Nov. 9, the University of Dallas’ Student Government (SG) moved to table for the second time their approval of the club formerly known as Student Leaders for Racial Progress which has now been renamed Student Leaders for Racial Justice (SLRJ). Controversy surrounding the club’s aims and pursuits has arisen across campus.  

Senators will vote anonymously on Nov. 16 due to concerns that erupted following the Nov. 2 tabling.

During the Nov. 2 SG meeting, a majority of the senators found fault with a section in Article I of the proposed constitution, the club seeks to “create a safe zone for all cultures that offers a welcoming, inclusive community and provides the opportunity to learn about the Black experience in America, as well as other minority experiences.” This line in particular along with the club name were discussed among students, faculty and alumni. 

The club reworded the constitution, omitted the above line and renamed the club following the criticism in the senate. 

Senior, founder and president of Student Leaders for Racial Justice, Joshua Nunn, clarified the SLRJ’s aims in an email interview. 

“The purpose of [SLRJ] is to further, ‘the pursuit of wisdom, truth, and virtue, [all while] fostering principled, moral judgment’ and civil conversation within our campus community.” 

Dr. Mathew Spring, director of the Academic Success office and advisor for SLRJ, said the club aligns with the mission of the University of Dallas. 

“We believe that this club will encourage us all to engage what has been a divisive national conversation regarding nuanced racial and social issues arising in our ‘problematic and ever-changing world,’” Spring wrote. 

On Nov. 4, SG’s Administrative Functions Committee met to discuss the role of the senate in the approval of clubs following the debate of the SLRJ’s approval. 

During the meeting, senior senator Jazmin Gudino explained that any senator who chose to vote no based on personal objections should be taken to the Executive Council for violation of SG’s bylaws. 

According to SG bylaws: “the Senate reviews applications for the chartering of new student organizations and gives its recommendation, based on the commensurability between the mission of the potential student organization and the mission of the University of Dallas” (Section 8, “Student Organization Chartering”). 

A junior class senator who asked to remain anonymous due to concern about possible retaliation confirmed Gudino’s statement in an email and added:  “Most shocking of all to me, [was that] some senators in favor of the club were told by another senator that opposing senators of a certain race and gender should be singled out and told that voting no would reflect badly on them. That, as unpopular as it may be, should be called out for being racist and sexist.”

“It’s hard to reconcile the fears we had reading the constitution when you feel like they are already coming true, ‘’ wrote the junior class senator. “The danger of this rhetoric is why I have chosen to comment anonymously. If this is indicative of a broader trend within the club to hinder free expression, that should be worried about, not just be opposing senators, but by UD students and faculty at large.”

In an email interview, Gudino, who was present at the Administration Functions Committee meeting, wrote:

“As a member of the club [SLRJ], I want to clarify any positions that may be credited as mine. If a senator votes against the club on the basis of their personal beliefs rather than on their duty to properly represent the student body and to make sure that the club’s mission statement aligns with our school’s mission, then they are not properly fulfilling those duties.” 

The University News asked President Joe Scholz if the claims made in the Administration Functions Committee were credible. 

“Let’s be clear: No Senator will ever face sanction for a vote. This rumor is outrageous, false, and without constitutional basis” Scholz wrote. 

On Nov. 4 senior senator Cadence Chiappe wrote on Twitter: 

 “As a senior senator and chair of the administrative functions, whose job it is to review new club constitutions, the tabling vote by the rest of the senate was very disheartening. There are no contradictions between the club’s constitution and the UD mission and vision statements.”

A freshman senator who requested anonymity due to fear of possible retaliation wrote to The University News to express their concerns about the SLRJ’s constitution.

“Knowing its students to be made in the image and likeness of God, the university refuses categorical language that places skin color before inherent human dignity. At the University of Dallas—a Catholic institution—we welcome a healthy and informed dialogue of different cultures, but once a club wants to frame campus discussions in a racially divisive manner, we can very easily fall into a theory Christianity has rejected since its birth.” 

“The job of the Senate is to ‘promote the common good of the university’; thus, the Senate must not approve any club or action which will foster discord or disunity, both of which clearly oppose the university’s common good.” 

On Nov. 9 many faculty testified in SG’s meeting. 

Spring responded to concerns that the club would exclude non-minority members of the UD community by stating that he, a white male, was asked to be the advisor of the club. He also addressed the senators’ concerns that that club would be used as a “political tool” and noted that the club and himself are committed to conversing with all people across all political spectrums to promote dialogue about humanity’s dignity. 

In the same meeting, a senator read a letter written by Dr. Andrew Moran to the SG senate to express his concerns with the term “Racial Justice.”

 “I am not directing this criticism against the students making this proposal, who I’m sure are doing so with sincerity and goodwill, and who are not aware of the implications of the formation of such a club,” Moran wrote. “I am criticizing and opposing the faculty and staff who do understand the implications and have been using the students to push their agenda.” 

Dr. David Upham, chair of the politics department, called for the senators to vote no on the approval because he has concerns that “it will be difficult for students to have the informality, relaxation, familiarity and easy equality that is essential to their making friends and otherwise participating in this wonderful community, without regard to race.”

A letter written by 13 professors from six different departments was also read on the record. 

“It is essential to our mission at the University of Dallas to recognize every human person as  ‘spiritual and physical, rational and free’ and to avoid as much as possible the categorization of  persons by means of reductive, often politically-charged categories like ‘race,’ ‘people of color,’ ‘black,’ ‘white,’ and the like,” stated the letter “The formation of such a club, however well-intentioned, would  import from the highly divisive world of social media the sort of terminology that is likely to  polarize our conversations on social justice.” 

The letter was signed by Drs. Andrew Moran, Gregory Roper and Theresa Kenny, all three members of the English department; Dr. Susan Hanssen, history department; Drs. Anthony Nussmeier and Ivan Eidt, modern languages department; Drs. Chad Engelland and Mathew Walz, philosophy department;  Drs. Christopher Wolfe, David Upham, Jonathan Culp and Tiffany Miller, all members of the politics department and  Dr. Christopher Malloy, theology department 

International senator and senior biochemistry major Michael Ewnetu gave an emotional speech during the meeting’s informal debate. Ewnetu expressed a love for his time at UD thus far. 

“The whole thing that has happened in the last few weeks has really pushed me to see the need for discussion, the need for education,” Ewentu said. 

“My best friends that I really love, my teachers that I love too, have views against what I support… They need to understand where I am coming from. This group asks for a bigger discussion and Joshua [Nunn] is trying to do that.” 

Following the meeting, The University News spoke with Ewentu. 

“After all this opposition came in even from the [faculty], it was really interesting to me, because one, the perspective from the other side, was not just a shallow perspective, but a profound perspective which I have to understand. I see this from two perspectives: I am an international student, and I am a black man. So I am saying not only what I believe, but what my constituency believes… This club has no agenda but rather it is a platform for discussion.”

To read the SLRJ Constitution, click here:

7 COMMENTS

  1. Doesn’t UD have a chapter of the College Republicans? If a club dedicated to discussing race is divisive, surely a political club is just as divisive. I have the greatest respect for the professors mentioned, but in this case, I think they are wrong. Avoiding this discussion because it might “import from the highly divisive world of social media the sort of terminology that is likely to polarize our conversations on social justice” disregards the fact that political affiliations and religious affiliations are far more polarizing than social justice terms, and we encourage discussion of both.

    Acknowledging and discussing the impact of race on different lived experiences doesn’t cause differences, if there is divisiveness we can be sure it was already there and discussions simply bring it to light. We are a richer community when we encourage a variety of backgrounds, opinions, and experiences. We are a university of independent thinkers- it is hard to be an independent thinker if all platforms for discussing differences are shut down as divisive.

    The stated purpose of the club is to be a platform for discussion, and we should be concerned if the mere mention of discussing racial differences provokes this kind of response. Suppressing that platform because of the possibility of use for another agenda is heavy-handed at best.

  2. I am so disappointed in the decision to table this club. I just don’t understand how allowing people to find community with others like them is bad. How is a club for people of color any different from a club for people with shared political interests, or the Men’s Society, or any other club where people come together because of a common interest or attribute?
    Seriously take the opposition’s argument outside the context of a racial justice group and see if it still makes sense. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s the group of people you have a problem with and not the concept of a club.

  3. Leaving aside for the moment the merits of the club, I would just like to remind faculty participants in the discussion to remember that it is possible to debate the merits of an issue without attacking one’s interlocutor’s motive and character. We should model civil discourse.

  4. Each of the professors who signed this letter has my respect, and many of them, my affection. Yet I am reminded of the comment Ronald Reagan made on abortion: “I have noticed that everyone who is for abortion has been born.” In this case, I have noticed that each professor who discouraged the club for POC students is white. Is there a faculty member of color who holds the same perspective as the 16 who signed the letter?

    • Hi Grace – I signed the statement and I am Hispanic. I don’t know if that “counts” as a POC. It is hard to tell how we are “officially” categorized these days. But the club explicitly mentions minority experiences and Hispanic is included among them by name. I do not purport to speak for all Hispanics but I definitely base my concerns on my own experiences as a Hispanic person growing up and living in places where my ethnicity and physical appearance determined how I was perceived and treated. I discussed those experiences with the student leaders wishing to start the club. I would add that I really enjoyed talking with them and have nothing but respect and admiration for them. Once you get beyond labels that kind of dialog is much more meaningful. Just my thoughts. I hope your semester is going well – Dr. Eidt

  5. Campus Politics Aside: From my SG vantage point, I’ve seen club leadership model patience and graciousness over the course of this process. And for that I am very grateful. UD is lucky to have students who care so deeply.

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