April 24, 2009

Chi Alpha Funds Halted

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Last night, the Student Assembly passed Resolution 41, supporting the initiation of an S.A. investigation into the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and endorsing a previous Student Assembly Finance Commission decision to temporarily suspend Chi Alpha’s funds due to a suspected violation of University Policy. Chi Alpha, which is a registered student organization and receives funding from the SAFC, came under fire this week after it was released that an openly gay member had been asked to step down from his leadership position in the group.
The resolution, which was sponsored by S.A. Vice President for Public Relations Nikki Junewicz ’10, LGBTQ representative Eric Shannon ’09, A&S representative Asa Craig ’11, Sun columnist Ariela Rutkin-Becker ’09 and Chris Donohoe ’09, specifically targeted Chi Alpha’s possible violation of the University’s “Open Doors, Open Hearts and Open Minds” policy and the Ethical Conduct Agreement for SAFC Student Organizations. These policies aim to “support an environment in which harassment of others is not tolerated” and foster “constructive engagement without degrading, abusing, harassing or silencing others.”
According to the resolution, because Chi Alpha is chartered under the Board of Trustees and the University president and receives an allocation of the student activity fee by the SAFC, the group falls under Cornell’s institutional guidelines.
The SAFC suspended Chi Alpha’s funding for a period of 10 days, following a meeting yesterday morning. Chi Alpha had been allocated $700 dollars for this year and had used approximately $400 so far according to the S.A. The group will not have access to the remaining funds, which will roll back into the SAFC account at the end of the semester. If the investigation finds that the group has violated the University’s Campus Code, the group could have its funding removed permanently.
The resolution formulated after Chris Donohoe ’09, who was present at the meeting as the resolution’s co-sponsor, was removed from his leadership position in the Chi Alpha Fellowship after openly accepting his homosexuality to the organization’s pastors.
“This resolution is not punitive,” Donohoe said. “This is not about damaging the rights of a [student] organization. It is about expressing the sentiment of the student body. The S.A. has an obligation to represent the students, and this [resolution] is aimed to harness their voice.”
Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 addressed the S.A., acknowledging the complicated nature of the issue.
“I welcome this investigation, [which] will involve the CURW [Cornell United Religious Work],” Hubbel said. “We don’t discriminate, as University policy. We should work diligently and quickly so this doesn’t have to happen again.”
The majority of S.A. representatives vocalized their support for the resolution and of the SAFC’s decision to conduct their own investigation.
“This is not about being the judge and jury ourselves,” S.A. Vice President Chris Basil ’10 said. “[It’s about] supporting a process. Personal rights have been violated.”
However, this sentiment was not reflected unanimously amongst the representatives in attendance. S.A. Vice President for Finance Greg Mezey ’09 was the sole dissenter when the resolution was brought to a vote.
“I struggle with legislating religious organizations [on campus],” Mezey said. “I want to make sure we have the facts [and that we] not take the majority opinion and say one minority organization [viewpoint] shouldn’t exist.”
President of Chi Alpha, Danielle D’Ambrosio ’10, shared this perspective and defended the actions of her organization. “We made the right decision and we’re not opposed to this investigation. We have nothing to hide.” In reference to Donohoe, D’Ambrosio added that “his behavior is what pushed [us] over the edge. He signed an agreement to uphold certain beliefs, and he understood [the group’s stance]. …Where do you draw the line?”
This question will be at the forefront of what is now joint investigation by the SAFC and the S.A. into Chi Alpha, whic h will ultimately determine the group’s fate as a University sponsored organization.