Student leaders for racial solidarity club approval bypasses student government

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

On Feb. 5, President Hibbs approved the Student Leaders for Racial Solidarity (SLRS), a proposed club formerly known as Student Leaders for Racial Justice and Student Leaders for Racial Progress, without student approval in the senate. The approval followed conflict on campus about whether the club should be formed, with some opponents concerned that its focus on race would be divisive. 

Hibbs bypassed the typical Student Government approval process. In an email, he wrote that his decision was made after conferring with members of the university community. Hibbs sent the email ahead of the SG vote since allowing the vote to continue when he had already approved the club was unnecessary. 

“In the last week, however, I have heard the question posed by a number of the members of the UD community: ‘If the President has already made the judgment that the group is going to be approved, then why go through with a vote, which is in the end only consultative anyhow?’” Hibbs wrote. 

In a statement to The University News, the SG Executive Council wrote:

“While we wish we could have been a part of the discussion of whether or not the club was to come before the Senate, we support President Hibbs’ decision and hope that this club does well on campus.” 

On Jan. 5, Hibbs, Bishop Edward Burns, and the Board of Trustees Chair Richard Husseini wrote to the community in support of the club. The letter highlighted the support of new trustee Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, and advertised an an event which Brown gave on Feb. 1 titled: “Christian Identity and Witness in Time of Racial and Social Conflict.” 

Students Joshua Nunn, Natalie Villafranca, and Prince Obegolu worked with Brown and Dr. Matthew Spring in the Academic Success office over break to  discuss the concerns brought by members of the community in the fall. 

In an interview with The University News, Nunn, the club’s president, explained that there were not major changes to the club’s constitution, but rather enhancements of their mission. 

“We made sure we were coming from a good stance on Christian faith and not what we had seen in the news,” said Nunn. “We wanted to make sure we were apolitical, which we always were. We wanted to make that an enhanced focus because we didn’t want to be swayed. A lot of it was the politics during the election.” 

Article 1 of the revised constitution states that the club seeks to “[p]rovide a collegial, non-partisan community on campus which will help students acquire a mature understanding of the nuanced racial and social issues arising in our problematic and ever-changing world, [encouraging all UD students to] become leaders able to act responsibly for their good and the good of their family, community, country and church.”

Nunn and the other officers revisions focused on enhancing certain aspects of the constitution to highlight Christian faith. 

“We added something about the great commandment in our constitution in the first bullet point. And the Great commandment, the first thing is love your God right? But the second thing is love your neighbor. We believe that love at the center of all this. It really is a heart condition issue that we are trying to work on,” Nunn said. 

According to Nunn, Brown aided in the efforts to enhance the mission of the club. 

“He did help us with some thoughts on what we could improve on. He was one of the advisors who helped us out,” Nunn said. 

During the Feb. 1 event, Brown discussed the mission of Catholics worldwide. 

“We do an extreme disservice to the mission of Jesus Christ and to evangelization if we put God in a cultural box and project our Catholic European heritage to the exclusion of our Catholic heritage from the rest of the world; the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin South America,” Brown said. “As Catholics today, we must evangelize, catechize, and teach young people universality, the global richness of the Catholic Church.” 

Following the event, Brown said: 

“Each one of the students at UD is on mission. God has a particular mission for them and it’s an adventure… Sadly, on a certain level the adventure is becoming way too exciting and way too mysterious in our country and in our state of Texas. On a certain level we should embrace the adventure and continue to discern what the mission that God’s calling us to.”

In a text message to The University News, Natalie Villafranca, SLRS’ advancement officer, expressed excitement when discussing Brown’s contributions to the club.

“Louis Brown is an incredibly intelligent and devout Catholic,” wrote Villafranca. “You can tell he really has a heart for social justice and solidarity. It was his first time on campus since he became a trustee, but it felt like he had been here all along – he fit in perfectly. We were extremely lucky to have him give such a great talk on campus.” 

On Feb. 5, Villafranca was surprised at Hibb’s decision to approve the club before the vote. 

“I had no idea that he was going to do that. It was definitely a pleasant surprise. It almost felt like the end of a sort of ‘dark age,’ where we had to fight for this club to exist,” Villafranca wrote. 

In the letter, Hibbs wrote that moving forward with the club was the right thing to do. 

“It seems to me that the prudent thing to do is to go ahead and approve the group. I realize that some will be unhappy with this decision, as it bypasses normal processes.  But there are times when bypassing such processes is the most reasonable path. I have made the judgment that this is such an occasion,” Hibbs wrote.

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