As the University Assembly ponders a clause that would prevent discrimination of membership in special-interest student organizations, an appropriately complex debate is playing out on campus. Citing a potential conflict between “discrimination, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly” on campus, the U.A. is heeding to the belief that passing such a clause would impinge on freedom of expression. This concern is misguided and overlooks the issues actually at play.
A Campus Code of Conduct that does not protect against discrimination inherently accepts it. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education maintains that an anti-discrimination clause stifles free expression. But in reality, permitting discrimination promotes an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, which threatens free expression. This is not the atmosphere that should be fostered at an academic institution, which relies heavily on the prosperity of academic inquiry.
In the case of group membership and leadership, there exists no conflict between discrimination and freedom of expression. Student groups have every right to express their beliefs. When these expressions are acted upon, however, the group has crossed a fundamental line and personal expression becomes an infringement upon others’ rights. Expulsion from a leadership position is an example of such an action.
We saw a similar issue take center stage in the pages of this newspaper last fall when the Student Assembly considered banning The Cornell Review from using “Cornell” in its title after a writer for the publication referred to black and latino students as “angry minorities.” Though we condemned the message put forth by The Review, we objected to stripping the publication of the Cornell name for exercising the freedom to express. This was clearly a case of preserving the writer’s freedom of speech.
But in the case of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship a member was expelled from a leadership position based on his sexual orientation and that represented an instance of blatant discrimination that cannot be permitted of groups receiving University funding. The Student Assembly Finance Commission’s decision to halt funding to Chi Alpha did not threaten the free expression of beliefs — it attempted to prohibit the inappropriate steps taken by individuals who excluded and silenced voices based on these beliefs.
We urge President David Skorton and the University Assembly not to succumb to pressures from outside organizations like FIRE that mask anti-discrimination policy as an infringement on the freedom to express. Groups of students have every right to express what they believe in. But discrimination need not be done on the University’s dime.