ASG Senate draws crowd objecting to Turning Point USA
THE SANTA CLARA
February 9, 2017
Last week, a conservative student group was denied official recognition from ASG senators after students voiced concern about its ties to a controversial national organization
The tension was palpable inside the Williman Room on Feb. 2 as student leaders and the campus community debated Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a group that promotes small government and free market values. Four students sought approval from the Associated Student Government to start a TPUSA chapter on campus.
After a vigorous, and at times contentious, discussion about freedom of speech and Jesuit values, TPUSA was denied registered student organization (RSO) status in a vote of 16 to 10.
According to Senate Chair Neil Datar, this means that the club cannot request tabling space to promote their organization or obtain funding from the university. While the vote denied the club RSO status for winter quarter, they can re-apply during spring quarter.
Founded in 2012, TPUSA promotes free-market, capitalist ideals, many of which are touted by the Republican and Libertarian parties. The organization’s motto is “Big Government Sucks.”
According to Matt Lamb, director of campus integrity for TPUSA, the group is opposed to Obamacare and government subsidies of energy companies, among other issues. Lamb added that instead, they support limited government, free speech, free markets and fiscal responsibility.
TPUSA dedicates itself to outreach on college campuses and promotes students to engage in political dialogue. There are around 350 chapters across the country and the Santa Clara branch began forming in November 2016.
Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial conservative author and commentator, has publicly endorsed TPUSA. Yiannopoulos has been accused of racism, anti-Semitism and sexism and was banned from Twitter for harassing actor and comedian Leslie Jones.
Several TPUSA chapters across the country have invited Yiannopoulos to speak at their college campuses, including Colorado University, Boulder and Miami University. The national organization’s president, Charlie Kirk, has written for Breitbart News.
The organization is most infamous for creating a professor watchlist, which according to the organization’s website, is a directory of college professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
The students seeking to start a TPUSA chapter at Santa Clara—Caleb Alleva, Thayne Kollmorgen, Sarah Yerga and Spencer McLaughlin—said that a Santa Clara chapter would focus solely on fiscal conservatism and non-partisan dialogue. They also said they wanted to instill pride in American exceptionalism from an economic perspective.
However, the students were met with opposition from others concerned about the national organization’s professor watch-list and ties to Yiannopoulos.
Student Jon Tuttle questioned why the students wanted to create a TPUSA chapter if they also disassociated themselves from the organization’s controversies.
“It sounds like you guys want to distance yourself from the national organization, saying you’re not going to invite Milo Yiannopolus to talk here,” Tuttle said. “But while the national organization has publicly endorsed him repeatedly.”
Kollmorgen, who recently gained notoriety for replying all to a university email addressing Santa Clara’s disapproval of president’s immigration order, responded.
“TPUSA has a vast amount of resources. They have an extended donor network which already has pamphlets and educational resources already made,” Kollmorgen said. “So choosing to go at it alone could have been a viable option. However, given that we already have a ton of legwork done for us already, it’s just more viable. It’s more efficient.”
Isaac Nieblas, director of the Multicultural Center, made an impassioned plea at the meeting for student senators to consider that the organization was contradictory to Santa Clara’s Jesuit values.
“This organization, nationally, and here on this campus, is against our ideals as a university of Jesuit philosophy and more than anything is against our humanity,” Nieblas said. “This is not right, this is not what we stand for as a whole university and its against our humanity as students and Broncos.”
Concern Over Watchlist
Other students at the meeting questioned whether the Santa Clara chapter would endorse the professor watch-list.
“I’m just confused about how this club is about free speech if they have a literal list of professors who they don’t agree with,” said senior Yesenia Veamatahau. “The list seems contradictory.”
In response to student criticism of TPUSA, ASG Senator Ahmer Israr categorized these objections as politically biased.
“It’s clear that they have a place at Jesuit institutions. This is politically motivated dissent. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a right to speak,” Israr said. “There are socialist alternative t-shirts in the audience. We believe in your right to speak. You should believe in our right to speak.”
Student Jon Fortescue argued that the professor watch-list conflicts with Jesuit values because it targets professors who address social justice issues such as rape culture.
In defense of the list, Kollmorgen compared it to the popular website RateMyProfessor.com, and insisted it would be used solely to inform other students about professors with “radical” ideas and “extreme views that support dictatorship.”
“Rate (My Professor) is in an academic context. We’ll be using the (professor watchlist) in a ‘you’re silencing our speech context,’” Kollmorgen said. “Again, it’s not to demonize or make people get fired. It’s to make people aware.”
Israr condemned opposition to TPUSA as an infringement on free speech and argued that vetoing a local chapter exceeded the role of ASG Senate.
“This is a Senate, not a censor board. Our job is to look at whether they’ve filled their documentation and whether there’s a need for them as an RSO not whether or not we agree with the national organization’s purpose,” Israr said. “As per the U.S. Constitution, the state of California and the UN Declaration (of) Human Rights, they have a right to free speech and we have to respect that.” ASG Senator David Warne echoed Israr’s sentiment and urged other senators to put their personal beliefs aside during the vote.
“It doesn’t make a difference whether you agree with the national organization,” Warne said. “We should support free speech. Free speech is a right in the United States for a reason. Smart men came up with the Constitution.”
In response to Warne, someone in the crowd shouted, “smart white men!”
“That’s a racist comment,” Warne said, rebuking the audience member.
Economic Versus Social Issues
Deliberation continued over whether or not the club was really solely committed to economic issues rather than social ones.
“I think what makes this interesting is that it’s a fiscal club but if it wasn’t socially motivated at all, we wouldn’t have this many people here,” said ASG Senator Austin Gray.
Senator Mac McOsker encouraged the students wanting to start the TPUSA chapter to instead form a fiscally conservative group, such as a free trade club, rather than associate with the controversial social aspects of TPUSA.
Alaina Boyle, student director of Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCAAP) said that social and economic issues are interconnected, making it difficult to approve TPUSA exclusively based on the economic policies they promote.
“I find it alarming that there’s a separation between the economic and the social,” Boyle said. “I’m afraid that if we approve it solely as an economic club, it would turn into being (social-issue based). Given the proof of the national organization, we have no proof that that’s not going to happen here.”
Several students argued that a local TPUSA chapter could not remain politically unaffiliated due to Kollmorgen’s campus-wide email that refuted President Michael Engh, S.J.’s criticism of the executive travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.
Kollmorgen defended his email, saying that it reflected his personal views, rather than TPUSA’s ideology. Israr also defended Kollmorgen and expressed confusion about the widespread disapproval of the email.
“I’m Muslim myself and their statement is not racist or derogatory in any way. Their statement was one of political value,” Israr said. “They should be allowed to make any statements they want as a person individual. It wasn’t offensive to me as a Muslim so why is it to you?”
One unidentified student, who said she was Muslim, condemned Israr for speaking on behalf of all Muslims.
ASG Senator Sam Pérez said she found redundancy in TPUSA’s purpose because it overlapped with those of the College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty and the College Democrats.
“This is not a party-affiliated club,” Alleva responded in an attempt to differentiate TPUSA from the other organizations. “We’re just here to talk about ideas without people shilling for a political party or for someone running for office.”
During the public forum, Leo Magaña noted that the TPUSA website already lists Santa Clara as an official chapter. ASG Senator Ye Chit Ko expressed disapproval of the breach in protocol, because the group had not been approved as an official RSO on campus.
“Just because there are students on campus that share values that agree with (TPUSA), they do not have the right to put our Santa Clara name on the chapter directory,” Chit Ko said. “That has to be confirmed by the student senate and the university to begin a chapter.”
Once again, a TPUSA representative responded.
“We’re not going to silence anyone. Anyone who wants to be a chapter, we’re going to let them go ahead and put on the professor watch-list,” Correia said. “That list was made because professors silenced conservative students and because we’re advocates of free speech.”
Veamatahau asked about why TPUSA needed RSO status, since the group receives support from the national organization.
“You mentioned several times that (TPUSA) is so well-funded and well-resourced,” Veamatahau said. “Why do you need to stretch the already thin resources for RSO’s by having it approved as an RSO?”
Kollmorgen responded that as an RSO, TPUSA would have access to university facilities.
Pérez said that by not approving TPUSA, free speech is not being violated, adding that a new club based in fiscal conservatism could be created.
She recognized the frustrations of those who opposed the club and recommended listening to their concerns. On the contrary, Israr told his fellow senators to recognize that conservative students are a minority group on campus who feel unable to openly voice their opinions.
“We’re talking a lot about safety that people feel,” Israr said. “But also consider that conservative students are also a minority group on campus and they don’t feel safe expressing themselves in class.”
After initially delaying voting to next week, senators ultimately decided to vote on TPUSA’s approval that night. While TPUSA did not gain official RSO status that night, three others did. The SCU Distance Club, the Society of Physics Students and the Slam Poets of SCU were granted RSO status.
“Overall I’m really proud of our Senate for how they approached a difficult topic and came to an informed decision,” said Senate Chair Neil Datar. “This should not be seen as the end of a conversation but the beginning of a respectful and productive discussion.”
In an interview with The Santa Clara, Alleva said that the student opposition to the club was incredibly surprising to him. He said he thinks that there is no reason for students to be afraid of the organization, and that it is not white supremacist in any way.
Nieblas said he thinks it is alarming and dangerous that the club wants to focus on economic issues while pushing aside social issues. He said that ignoring the way that social issues impact economic issues is where the identities of people of color are dismissed.
“That is dangerous because these are issues that are inherently tied together, and if you aren’t willing to speak about our own identities that are oppressed through racialization, that’s dangerous,” Nieblas said.
Nieblas added that TPUSA’s professor watch-list is proof that the organization doesn’t embody Jesuit values, since it includes professors who are #BlackLivesMatter supporters and professors who fight for the rights of marginalized groups.
Alleva said he thinks that not approving the club was an “erosion of free speech” and a blow to to “diversity of opinion.”
“I’m not saying they were against us because we are conservative, but we are the minority ideology on campus,” Alleva said.
After hearing Nieblas speak at the meeting, Alleva said it seemed to him like Nieblas was saying that Alleva himself was personally opposed to Santa Clara’s ideals.
“It was almost a personal attack that the director of the MCC said this club we are trying to start was against everything that Santa Clara University stood for,”Alleva said.
In an email, Datar said that the student senate is a democratically elected group, and he believes the senate made an informed decision after hearing “input from a diverse range of constituents. Datar added that the final decision resulted from a “rigorous, fair and democratic process.”
Students from Turning Point USA are currently appealing the student senate’s decision through the ASG’s judicial branch.
Contact Bella Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4849. Editor in Chief Sophie Mattson contributed to this report.