Free Market Group Denied Official Status at Drake University for ‘Hateful Record’

Students allege censorship, file ethics complaints against school

Drake University
Wikimedia Commons
May 4, 2016

Students at Drake University are fighting back after a national conservative-leaning group was denied official status by the student government over allegations regarding its "hateful record."

Student advocates for Turning Point USA—a nonprofit pushing for fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government—believe the student senate’s decision not to recognize the group as an official student organization amounts to censorship.

"We believe that by them not approving our organization, it was based off of their personal views," Amy Samuel, a sophomore at Drake University who has advocated for a Turning Point chapter on the Des Moines, Iowa, campus, told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is discrimination in a political sense."

The matter has led students to file ethics complaints against the university, and has also precipitated a forthcoming meeting with the dean of students.

The issue took root in late April, when the student senate convened to discuss Turning Point’s application for official recognition by the university and hear arguments from its advocates. The student government has the final say on whether groups become official student organizations, which allows them to receive school funding, put on events, and table at the school.

Turning Point USA, founded in 2012, seeks to "identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government." The group’s representatives visit hundreds of campuses across the country to connect student conservatives with local chapters. The group is not affiliated with a political party nor does it endorse candidates.

In a 15-3 decision, the Drake student government body rejected Turning Point’s appeal to become a recognized student group. The senators who rejected the group did not present clear or relevant reasons for doing so, according to proponents of the group who attended the meeting. Some accused the organization of having a "condescending" message and a "hateful record."

Samuel and Christina Herrin, the Iowa field director for Turning Point who is a part-time student at the University of Iowa, believe that the student senators’ personal beliefs influenced their decision. Members of the student leadership focused on questioning the group’s position on social issues, they said, and pointed out that the Turning Point’s founder Charlie Kirk personally identifies as pro-life.

Members of the student senate also questioned the group’s commitment to "aggressive" advocacy efforts and worried about the impact that the group would have on the "campus dynamic" at Drake. One student leader expressed difficulty believing that "these voices are marginalized on campus," according to the official minutes of the meeting, suggesting that more conservative-leaning groups on campus are not necessary.

"A lot of students here think that conservative voices are silenced on campus," Samuel told the Free Beacon in an interview this week. "[The decision] definitely made us feel that conservative voices are even more silenced."

Samuel said that she and other advocates collected more than 100 signatures of students expressing interest in Turning Point ahead of the meeting with the student senate. "It’s not just a handful of students," Samuel added.

Herrin, who attended the April meeting with the student government alongside Samuel and another Drake student advocate for Turning Point, said that the student senators used "a lot of irrelevant rhetoric" to oppose the group.

"We just wanted a statement as to why we weren’t approved and we didn’t get one," Herrin recalled. "They were very against us coming and made it very clear."

The group was denied official status despite the fact that Drake pledges to protect "diverse perspectives and the free flow of ideas and discussion" among its students and community members.

"Drake values the fact that it is a community consisting of men and women of different races, nationalities, religions, physical abilities, sexual orientation, ages, political perspectives, and other diverse characteristics. While acknowledging our differences, we affirm the dignity and freedom of every individual," the university student handbook reads.

"We abhor acts of oppression, be they denial of freedom of expression; discrimination in its various forms of sexism or racism, or intolerance of religion, age, sexual orientation, or political beliefs; or harassment of any member of the University community. Drake’s students, faculty, and staff share the responsibility of respecting each other and new and opposing ideas."

Students supporting Turning Point argue that the student government’s rejection of the group conflicts with university policy. That’s what led Samuel and others to ask students to file ethics complaints against the university; while uncertain of the exact number, Samuel believes that about 50 students have registered complaints with the school, which they can do through the university website.

"We’re really just looking for an apology, a change of policy, and immediate recognition," Samuel said.

Student advocates for Turning Point are scheduled to meet with the dean of students on Wednesday afternoon, Herrin said. The advocates will push for immediate recognition of the group and also seek a clear explanation of why it was denied official status.

Herrin plans to attend the meeting to offer "support," though her efforts to contact the Dean of Students on the issue have been met with resistance.

"They told me that my assistance isn’t needed," she said.

Representatives for the university did not return a request for comment from the Free Beacon by press time.