Saturday, August 24, 2019
Students Protest Administration Action Regarding Churchill Club

Students Protest Administration Action Regarding Churchill Club

Gillian Reinhard ’20

Editor-in-Chief

The Tripod has aimed to accurately cover the debate surrounding the Churchill Club. Our coverage has been geared towards members of the Trinity community. For some context on the paper’s process, please read this editorial.

Throughout the semester, the Student Government Association (SGA) has deliberated to either approve or reject the Churchill Club. Context on this debate and the club has been previously covered in the Tripod.  On Monday, Apr. 29, a school-wide email sent out to the student body reported that the SGA voted to reject the Churchill Club.

The email, sent on behalf of SGA, said: “We would like to reiterate that this in no way impacts their ability to organize themselves on campus and discuss their thoughts on Western Philosophy, but, at this time, do not recognize them as an SGA sanctioned organization.”

The basis of the rejection, according to the email, was rooted in the conduct of the club during the approval of the club (referring to students opposed to the club being approved as “militant”) as well as the conduct of club advisor Professor Gregory Smith, who, according to the SGA email, has curbed free speech on campus by threatening students with legal action.

Student protestors spoke out against the Churchill Club and the administrative action to approve them.

The SGA also cited the concerns of members of the student body who expressed their discomfort with having the club on campus in a series of recent SGA-sponsored Town Halls. Disapproval of the club’s rhetoric was reaffirmed by professors in an email the previous week, before SGA voted on the Churchill Club.

This email, signed by over forty concerned members of the faculty, stated that “an uncritical celebration of Western civilization perpetuates its own intellectual, cultural, and racial exclusions… It is evident that ‘Western’ intellectual, political, and cultural traditions are in no way marginalized on this campus.” This group of professors, across several departments, expressed their support for those on campus they argue are marginalized on campus, specifically, “Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, international, and first-generation college students, among other groups.”

Hours after the SGA released its decision, President Joanne Berger-Sweeney and the President’s Cabinet responded directly to the rejection of the Churchill Club by the SGA. An email to the community stated: “As an education institution, we have an unshakable commitment to free expression and inquiry, open debate and discourse, and the valuing of all voices.”

This email from the President’s Cabinet stated that the authority to “review and recognize student organizations” rests with the Office of Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership (SAIL). This approval from SAIL, according to the email, grants clubs the opportunity to reserve space on campus and host events, among other privileges. As stated in the email, the authority of the SGA rested only in allocating funds to the Churchill Club from the Student Activities Fee (SAF).

“As such, the club is an officially recognized student group at Trinity,” concluded the email from the President’s Cabinet.

Following the release of this email, members of the student body conducted an hours long sit-in at the President’s Office. The protest began at the President’s office to meet with her directly and this request was immediately fulfilled. This request was honored and students were moved into a larger room. Students addressed their concerns regarding a strong disapproval among members of the student body of allowing the Churchill Club to exist on campus as well as the perceived rejection by the administration of the SGA’s role in approving clubs.

President Berger-Sweeney responded in another school-wide email that the College’s intention was not to “undercut the SGA” and that the President’s Cabinet would review the original email sent to the student body. Additionally, President Berger-Sweeney publicly denounced white supremacy, an ideology which members of the student body feel is perpetuated by the Churchill Club.

Another email sent Wednesday, May 1, from the SGA to the student body introduced a resolution to Trinity College, stating that: “SGA has sole authority over approving student organizations.” This resolution accused the administration of silencing student voices and seizing authority. The SGA encouraged students to oppose administration interference to this process.

The email also circulated a petition that has garnered hundreds of signatures in hours. Also circulated was a statement of support from over sixty faculty.

This is a developing story.

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