Beginning last spring, Vanderbilt began implementing a new non-discrimination policy that undermines the integrity of many student religious organizations. As a student leader in one of these organizations, I had a front-row seat to the drama that unfolded behind closed doors as many in the religious community attempted to dialogue with the administration. Like so many others, I was dedicated to pleading the case of religious life — but only in private.
Then I received the chancellor’s email last week and something inside of me snapped. I realized that the rest of the Vanderbilt community deserves a more accurate picture of what had been transpiring privately for so many months. So this is a public plea. A public and passionate plea for myself and any other student who wants the opportunity to make choices for religious organizations based on their religious beliefs.
It’s that simple.
Yet, throughout this process the university has consistently obscured the facts in an effort to gain acceptance for a policy that is widely unpopular amongst those it will affect. I’m going to try to clear up a few of those facts, and then I’ll go on to explain what I believe.
From the beginning, Vanderbilt has denied crafting a new, more expansive non-discrimination policy. Instead, administrators have tried to convince us this is actually a case of a few organizations being asked to conform to a longstanding practice.
According to this story, various offices are finally “catching up” with a policy that has been in place across the university all along. But no matter how the facts are framed, the reality is that the student organization handbook was altered last December, when a section specifically protecting religious association was removed, as highlighted by The Hustler in September 2011. Then, in April, a number of organizations were placed on provisional status as constitutions that had been easily approved in previous years were evaluated under this new standard. Call it a policy change or call it “catching up.” Either way, something changed. And that change will have real consequences for student organizations.
So far, the refrain echoed by a variety of university officials is that for all intents and purposes, business will continue as usual. But in a meeting with the Interfaith Council last Tuesday, Dean of Students Mark Bandas went so far as to admit that religious organizations could come under investigation if there was suspicion that members used religious criteria in voting for their leaders.
Let’s say that you’re a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and that you’re running for president of the organization. You win the election, but the student that you beat feels that he lost because members of the organization cast their votes based on his religious beliefs. According to Bandas, Vanderbilt would have grounds to investigate your organization for discrimination if the other student lodged a formal complaint. That hardly seems like business as usual to me.
For full letter/ article: http://www.insidevandy.com/opinion/columns/article_bed4c3ac-4aec-11e1-8813-0019bb30f31a.html