February 23- On Tuesday evening, the Cornell College Student Senate decided to deny a request by Jack Beaumaster and Adam Tvedt to open a Turning Point USA (TPUSA) chapter.
According to the letter sent by the Cornell Student Senate following the vote, the decision to reject TPUSA was on the basis of an incompatibility of values between that organization and Cornell College. The letter labeled TPUSA, its members, leadership, and events as “hateful, sexist, racist, or otherwise demeaning or discriminatory.” Evidence gathered throughout the three-month long application process by Beaumaster and Tvedt, calls into question the validity of the assertion made by the student government that their decision to deny TPUSA a place on campus was not politically motivated.
TPUSA, according to its website and the explanations provided by Beaumaster and Tvedt to the student government, is a group focused on promoting free-market principles, economic freedom, and limited government. In no way has TPUSA ever claimed to discriminate against individuals based on race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference, or made such actions a cornerstone of its events. In fact, Beaumaster and Tvedt pointed to the diverse range of events and speakers, including TPUSA’s Young Latino Leadership Summit and the Young Women’s Leadership Summit. The list of TPUSA speakers includes diverse individuals such as Jason Riley, Ben Shapiro, and Antonia Okafor. Regardless, members of student government decided to ignore these opportunities presented by the group.
During the January 30 executive board meeting, TPUSA was criticized for having language in its constitution that required for membership (voting rights) that participants follow the rules of meeting order (such as standing and sitting when asked to). While enacting membership restrictions in no way violated the student government’s constitution (other groups were allowed to restrict voting membership for similar reasons), Beaumaster and Tvedt removed that language. Furthermore, Beaumaster and Tvedt also agreed to make changes to their constitution by adding language that prohibited members of the TPUSA chapter at Cornell to contribute to the Professor WatchList, a prominent part of the national organization that calls out professors for making explicitly violent or partisan comments while teaching.
“We really cut huge portions of the organization out in the name of compromise,” Beaumaster indicated, “we even gave them the option of after two years reviewing our TPUSA chapter and cutting it if they believed we had strayed from the school’s code of honor. We literally put the running of the chapter in their hands and they still wouldn’t take it.”
Despite these concessions, student government and students were still looking to paint a TPUSA chapter at Cornell as a ‘racist organization,’ during subsequent meetings. One member of student government went so far as to say, “Turning Point USA has had controversy, and has allegations including promoting racial violence.”
During the February 20 student government session (when the vote was held), Beaumaster and Tvedt were both verbally accosted by members of the Cornell community.
“Terms like bigots, racists, homophobes, and many more slurs were thrown out at us simply for attempting to bring this group to campus,” Tvedt said, “it was difficult to even answer peoples questions at times due to their repetitiveness. They tried to question our integrity and claimed that we were rude and sarcastic. Some claimed that we were opposed to dialogue. That was absolutely ridiculous because we put more time into creating this group and were questioned more by the Senate than any other group had been. ”
To the credit of the student body president, Ethan Berube, he did order that, “We cannot deny a group for what they might do and what our political stances are.”
“I appreciate that Ethan stated this,” Tvedt said, “and commend him for doing so.”
However, this order was quickly undermined by members claiming that the will of their constituents was more important. “It is our job to represent our constituents,” a member of the student government executive board said, “Some of us have been here for years, the turnout [of groups opposed to TPUSA] speaks volumes for itself.”
While the vote as to whether Cornell College will have a TPUSA chapter has been decided, there still remain questions to whether or not this vote violated both the student governments bylaws and the student code of conduct.
“The Student Senate’s constitution does not lay out any powers or means by which the group can deny an organization recognition,” Beaumaster stated, “I think without any guidelines for denying a student group, Student Senate does not have the power to make such a denial. They have never denied a group before that has met all their requirements.”
Both Beaumaster and Tvedt indicated that students struggled to point out anyway in which TPUSA didn’t meet the standards set forth in order to be a student group on campus.
“One argument Tuesday night was that we lacked integrity because we asked for Student Senate to turn over emails, texts, and other forms of correspondence, which is allowed according to their own Constitution. We did this in order to ensure transparency in the process,” Tvedt said, “Their argument made absolutely no sense. Some were respectful to us, but it honestly seems like they made up a reason in order to deny a conservative group a voice on campus.”
Beaumaster also revealed that many rule infractions occurred when it came to the release of information, giving timely notice, and voting procedures.
“There were voting members appointed, not elected, the day of to hear our presentation and vote on it,” Beamaster said, “this certainly violated the 48 hours in advance rule the Senate had in place.”
Support for TPUSA was not solely that of Beaumaster and Tvedt, as both students and faculty voiced support for the organization. In fact, they had turned in a petition to the Student Senate with around 110 signatures from students in support of having the group on campus.
“I honestly thought it was embarrassing that the vote was so lopsided,” said Cornell student Hayden Dzurisin said, “after Jack and Adam had addressed every concern of the student body and senate, and had done so in an utmost respectful manner.”
“A denial would strongly suggest intolerance for differing views that are conducted in a civil manner,” TPUSA faculty advisor, Professor Hans Hassell said in a letter, “Moreover, I would not have agreed to be the advisor of the club if I did not believe at this time that the club’s aims, goals, and actions would also be consistent with that statement. I strongly believe that the activities that the club will engage in will be conducted 1) with the intent to understand, 2) with the respect for the inherent dignity and worth of every person, 3) with the commitment promoting learning and appreciation for critical thinking, and 4) with empathy.”
Hassell pointed these four qualities out as they are part of the student policy handbook, The Compass. . Specifically, Hassell was pointing to the ‘Freedom of Expression and Civil Discourse Statement,’ which outlines the college’s commitment to “strongly endorse freedom of speech, as articulated in the First Amendment, as an inherent right of individuals to express themselves.”
Going forward Beaumaster and Tvedt indicated that they were interested in looking at an appeals process.
“They really don’t have one laid out,” Tvedt stated, “but I’m hoping that they will work with us because we really want to work with them to get a TPUSA chapter on campus. We have illustrated we wanted to work with them the whole time. I think the leftist groupthink on campus scared people into opposing us.”
Currently Cornell College, despite its assertion of having a diverse 100 or more student groups, has no conservative groups on campus.