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USG approval of controversial conservative group stirs debate

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“We have potentially the most contentious piece of … legislation coming to the floor tonight,” Trace Hancock, outgoing vice president for student organizations, said in the 13th Undergraduate Student Government senate meeting on April 4.

The legislation recommended granting Turning Point USA, a conservative activist organization, active club status on Tulane’s campus. It was tabled and reintroduced during Tuesday’s senate meeting when it passed after more than an hour of deliberation.

Seventeen students came to open forum during the first five minutes of the meeting to voice concerns about the approval of the club, which has chapters on more than 1,000 college and high school campuses throughout the country.

Sophomore Maddy Lowry and fourth-year student Manali Souda spoke on behalf of the students who attended open forum, expressing their view that Turning Point USA’s “professor watchlist” is a pressing concern for marginalized students at Tulane. The watchlist identifies college professors who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls,” according to the national organization’s website.

“There’s substantial reason to worry that our professors of color here at Tulane may be placed on the watchlist, threatening their jobs,” Lowry said in the open forum session. “Clearly, this is inherently discriminatory, which goes directly against USG bylaws.”

Lowry and Souda said that students of all political affiliations have concerns about the group because of the potential for discrimination, rather than ideological preferences. In a statement released by Students Organizing Against Racism after the decision was made, SOAR members also referenced Turning Point USA’s historical association with individuals affiliated with the alt-right, a white nationalist movement, like Milo Yiannopoulous, as a point of concern. 

While the students who spoke at USG’s open forum and several USG members said they believe Turning Point USA might bring discriminatory practices to Tulane, others felt the group could not be denied active club status as a student organization based on the possibility of future actions.

“We’re picking out a few chapters from this national organization that have engaged in discriminatory behavior that I am very concerned about and very against, and we’re extrapolating that to say everyone could and probably will [engage in similar behavior], which is an inaccurate argument,” Director of Student Safety Michelle Story said in the senate meeting.

Turning Point USA, whose leaders were invited but unable to attend open forum, had a statement read during the senate meeting, which said that the Tulane chapter of Turning Point USA “wants nothing to do with arguments on social issues. We have chosen to focus on economics above all else, along with discussions of different governmental models.”

Some USG members also suggested that the club be audited while others were not confident that such actions would benefit those affected by potential discrimination.

“It’s easy to say file a concern, file an audit, things like that,” Souda said in the senate meeting when a senator yielded debate time to her. “But when you don’t necessarily trust the administration … to protect you, that is not always the way that students like me or students like other people in this room choose to go about their actions.”

Incoming Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Morton said that by allowing Turning Point USA to form a chapter at Tulane, USG would not necessarily be offering support for the club’s views or endeavors.

“Nowhere in this legislation does it say that we endorse the ideas behind Turning Point USA,” Morton said in the senate meeting. “We are saying that they’ve met the requirements set forth to be given active status as an organization.”

Hancock led the discussion on Turning Point USA and defended the decision to recommend the approval of the club’s active status on Tulane’s campus. He called on Incoming VPSO Laura Anne Bartusiak to speak about the recommendation.

“People don’t gain their rights by silencing the rights of other people, so I think it’s really important that we have different organizations on campus and have these conversations so that all organizations have a chance to become active,” Bartusiak said in the senate meeting.

Despite sentiments in favor of approving Turning Point USA’s active club status, Souda and others remained concerned that even if the club’s Tulane chapter does not engage in discriminatory behavior, its presence on campus might further marginalize underrepresented groups.

“What I want to impress upon you all is that allowing this organization with this history and this precedent will … prove to students of color and queer students of color that you are not listening to us,” Souda said in the senate meeting when a senator yielded time to her. “We are very much affected by organizations like [Turning Point USA], and frankly, most of you in this room are not and will never be.”

Some members of USG felt that even after the approval of the club’s active status, both outgoing and incoming USG representatives should consider issues of representation and support for marginalized communities when working to improve university life.

“While I do think that it is unavoidable that we will have to support Turning Point becoming a club at Tulane, it is clear that we are not doing a good enough job supporting these students that would be directly affected,” outgoing Director of Communications Margaret Stolte said in the senate meeting. “So the next senate needs to take better steps in supporting these students.”

Disclaimer: Hullabaloo Managing Editor-elect Canela Lopez is currently a voting member of the USG senate and did not play a role in the creation of this article. Current Managing Editor Jordan Figueredo and Editor-in-Chief Brandi Doyal formerly served as Media Board Council Chairs and were non-voting members of the USG senate. 

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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans
USG approval of controversial conservative group stirs debate