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SGA Denies TPUSA Chapter on Campus Leading to Political Debates

On April 28, the Student Government Association (SGA) received a club proposal from students hoping to establish a chapter of the national conservative organization Turning Point USA (TPUSA) on Wilmington College’s main campus. SGA decided to not recognize the TPUSA chapter, and this decision has led to much debate regarding TPUSA and conservative views on campus.

TPUSA is a conservative nonprofit organization founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk. According to its website, TPUSA has chapters on over 1,500 campuses. Their mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”

“Turning Point USA is non-partisan and will never partake in campaign activities of any kind (such as advocating for a specific candidate, making political phone calls, encouraging students to participate in campaign events, etc.). TPUSA does not associate with any political party. We also focus strictly on economic issues (no talk about abortion, gay marriage, etc.),” states TPUSA in its online chapter handbook on page 13.

SGA was approached during their last open meeting for the spring 2020 semester by the student government president, Logan Schroer, to consider recognizing a chapter of the conservative organization. The organization is already an official chapter of Turning Point USA.

In order for a student organization to receive funding from the student activity fee, the student government must recognize it. The process to propose a student organization to SGA includes submitting a constitution detailing who the academic adviser will be, who the officers of the club will be, and how elections for officer positions will be handled. A member of the proposed organization must attend a student government open meeting to present the constitution to the SGA board.

The TPUSA website lists Schroer as the chapter’s president, Hannah Davis as the vice president, Connor Heck as the treasurer, and a secretary. Davis has since resigned from her position.

After deliberations, SGA decided to decline the proposed constitution and not give TPUSA official student government recognition. 

“I got the impression during the open meeting that [SGA’s] primary reason [for declining TPUSA’s constitution] probably revolved around the belief that it was redundant with existing organizations, such as Diversity in Action (DNA). The objective of DNA is to bring people together from across the political spectrum to discuss controversial issues.  According to the way it was presented in the meeting, TPUSA functions in much the same way.  The primary difference is that TPUSA is an explicitly conservative organization, so the topics that are discussed tend to be those that matter to conservatives,” said Patrick Copeland, the SGA liaison for the Student Senate who attended the April 28 student government open meeting. 

SGA’s decision had two main reasons behind it. First, the SGA board felt that there were other opportunities on campus to express the concerns that TPUSA would discuss through existing groups on campus. Some of the groups SGA suggested are DNA, Amnesty International, Faith in Action, and WC Energize. 

Secondly, SGA felt that the proposed club would not “accurately reflect Wilmington College’s standards,” and that all organizations on campus should be inclusive to all “gender orientations, political ideologies, and other diversity classifications.”

These reasons were communicated to the members of the proposed group via email.

“Their constitution did not say that they were inclusive. All organizations that have been approved through SGA have to be inclusive, per our college core values of diversity and respect for all persons. The board suggested that they try other organizations first and to then come back to SGA if that did not work,” said Brittanie Clair, the SGA vice president of public relations.

The seven student government board members are the sole decision-makers when deciding to approve or reject club proposals. The SGA adviser, Sigrid Solomon, has no voting power. She did explain how the SGA board members make their decision:

“While the College has authority and discretion to approve or deny a proposed organization, it seeks a consistent outcome with the SGA board unless the SGA board approves a proposed organization that has not provided all required information or the organization or its constitution is inconsistent with [the] College’s policies and procedures or its mission and core values.  In making a determination, the SGA board considers the information provided and other relevant considerations, including but not limited to student support and its consistency with the College’s mission and core values.  As a Quaker institution, the College believes in the importance of each individual, giving primary attention to the community and the rights of neighbors, and secondary attention to one’s own rights.  Students are encouraged and expected to develop a high degree of self-discipline and personal restraint, as well as a respect for the sensitivities of other students.  Consistent with its mission and core values, the College is committed to achieving and sustaining diversity, the emphasis of which is inclusion related to racial and ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, and economic class,” said Solomon.

Not only does the student government consider the proposed constitution, but they also examine the organization’s beliefs and objectives and how they relate to the college’s core values.

The college’s core values include integrity, community, diversity, excellence, peace and social justice, respect for all persons, and service and civic engagement.

“The [SGA] board believed that Turning Point USA’s constitution was vague and not well defined when it came to discussing their intent. The board also believed that the constitution did not meet the college’s diversity and inclusion needs. Furthermore, the board suggested that they revise these areas. The board also believed that there are other nonpartisan organizations on campus, similar to Turning Point USA, in which their voices can be heard. In conclusion, the board suggested that they try these other routes first; if they believe their voices are not heard in the other organizations, then [TPUSA can] reapply for SGA recognition,” said Clair.

Clair explained that if an SGA board member intends to serve on an executive board of a proposed club, that member is not allowed to participate in the decision-making process regarding approving the proposed club. Heck, the vice president of faculty, alumni, and trustees, and Schroer were not a part of the discussion.

“Personally, I am not sure if they are intending on reapplying to become a recognized group on campus. If they do reapply, we, as SGA, will take the same process as we do for every new group that is presented to us for approval,” said Kaleb Hubner, the SGA vice president of administration. 

The decision to not recognize TPUSA on campus became highlighted when an article from Breitbart News was published. The article discussed a social media post made by Schroer and a response Schroer received from Solomon; the article also raised a question on how WC responds to differing political viewpoints between conservative and liberal students. 

“As the SGA adviser, I had a discussion with all SGA board members regarding their roles as leaders on campus.  At the request of several SGA board members, a board member and I also had a discussion with Mr. Schroer after several individuals expressed concerns regarding the promotion of Turning Point USA on campus after SGA had denied its application to become a student organization,” said Solomon. 

Student reactions to this article began appearing on the WC app, a resource for the school community to communicate, spread information and updates, and to ask questions. 

Some students voiced opinions that the college administration is attempting to silence some of its students for political reasons. Others argued that the campus does allow students to speak freely about their beliefs. 

“Consistent with the College’s policies on academic freedom, neither I nor the College seek to prohibit or have prohibited student expression where it does not substantially impair the rights of others,” said Solomon.

Consistent with the College’s policies on academic freedom, neither I nor the College seek to prohibit or have prohibited student expression where it does not substantially impair the rights of others.”

Sigrid Solomon

Students also voiced opinions on whether or not Turning Point USA should have a chapter on campus.

“The problem that I see on campus, based on my own experience and talking to many other conservative students, is that conservative views, while not usually, explicitly suppressed, seem to be looked down upon and discouraged by the campus culture.  The majority of politically active people on our campus lean hard to the left end of the political spectrum.  Furthermore, it seems that those on the political left have been taught to believe, perhaps without realizing it, that many conservative views are manifestly wrong and, therefore, ought not to be allowed to spread.  While I believe that some organizations, such as DNA, do make an honest effort to include people with differing opinions, this does not seem to work out very well in practice since these organizations are dominated by liberal students. This causes conservative students to feel excluded and unwelcome. As a result, conservative students tend not to become involved in these organizations, which further compounds the problem,” said Copeland.

Copeland believes having a TPUSA chapter on campus would be a good thing and would match some of the college’s Quaker values. He shares this belief with other students such as Emily Williams, a third-year student studying business.

“I had not heard of Turning Point USA before. I have now looked into things and viewed their mission, and it is a good organization for activism. Do I agree with their views completely? No. However, I do like how they operate and encourage activism,” said Williams.

“As long as they are not harming our campus, we could only benefit from having this opportunity. I myself would not be a part of it, but I think it is great to have a diverse set of opportunities. Diversity is about inclusion; everyone should be included in something. [WC] is about finding our people who share our values, so this group can do that for some people. The only reason I could disagree with it is if it is very disorganized, [does] not respect other organizations, and creates a negative tension. But that can be true with any group really—it’s up to the members to make sure things go smoothly and everyone feels respected,” said Williams. 

Macie Schaffner is a junior studying middle childhood education and social work who also supports having a TPUSA chapter on campus.

“You have groups supporting things like banning guns, supporting same-sex marriage, climate change, etc. As a conservative woman, I am supposed to sit back and be quiet, otherwise, another student will completely lose their mind. I am a strong believer of free speech for all, and 100% support that both sides should be heard. That includes the right-winged students like myself, too,” said Schaffner.

Other students offered the opposite argument.

“I have heard of TPUSA before.  My impression of them isn’t a great one—from what I’ve seen, instead of positively promoting what they believe in, they just speak negatively about other views. It seems very confrontational in nature,” said Olivia Wendel, a senior math major.

“I am a firm believer in everyone being able to speak their minds; however, seeing as we are a private, Quaker campus, I don’t think [TPUSA’s] values line up with the school’s mission. So, I don’t think they should have a chapter at Wilmington. I think it is fair for them to still be able to be on campus. They could meet together unofficially, and then bring their ideas and views to the already established political groups,” said Wendel.

Hannah Davis shares a similar opinion to Wendel:

“After doing more extensive research on Turning Point USA, I do not believe that the behavior of other collegiate chapters of Turning Point USA is in line with my values or the values of Wilmington College. I have discovered many instances of misconduct and unethical behavior, and because of the recurring nature of these acts, I do not believe that Turning Point USA is the best organization in terms of representing conservative students on campus. I believe that the Young Republicans and Young Democrats organizations would be far more fitting as it would promote discussion between individuals with different ideas and perspectives on campus, allowing the student body to have constructive, worthwhile discussions centered around how to compromise in addition to giving students the opportunity to learn from one another,” said Davis.

After doing more extensive research on Turning Point USA, I do not believe that the behavior of other collegiate chapters of Turning Point USA is in line with my values or the values of Wilmington College.”

Hannah Davis

Amidst the discussion regarding whether or not TPUSA should have a chapter at WC, Schroer made a post on the WC app requesting students to join him by signing a petition to have the conservative group on campus. 

“We, the students of WC, petition Student Government Association to recognize Turning Point USA as an official organization on campus. Currently, conservative organizations are not represented on campus and has left many students feeling as though their beliefs are unwanted. TPUSA believes it is essential to all students, regardless of political ideology, to express themselves freely,” said Schroer on the WC app. 

The student government’s constitution allows for students to appeal a grievance decision made by the SGA Board. To do this, the appealing party has two options: they can submit a letter of appeal to the Appeals Committee, or they can submit a petition containing 10% of the student body’s signature. 

“I truly believe that TPUSA would thrive on our campus. We have many students on campus that share conservative ideals and beliefs that do not feel their voices are heard. In our recent petition, we received over 100 signatures in just a few hours. And considering that we could not do this in person and on campus, we were beyond ecstatic with the turnout of support for this organization. Just because we are a Quaker school, does not mean that conservative values should not be heard,” said Schroer.

Wilmington College is not the first college campus to undergo discussions and debates regarding Turning Point USA. There are recordings of controversies on other college campuses and on the internet with TPUSA at the center. 

A recurring controversy surrounding Turning Point USA is their interference in college student government elections.

TPUSA is affiliated with a group called the Campus Leadership Project (CLP). CLP contacts candidates running for positions in student governments on college campuses and offers them funding for their campaign as well as access to networks and promotional merchandise. This is controversial because many college student governments have stipulations stating what candidates are allowed to do when running, including a maximum amount of money candidates can spend on campaigns, and restrictions minimizing the influence of third parties. 

For WC, the SGA constitution does not specify any restrictions on how much money candidates can spend on their campaigns.

Reports of CLP having connections to student government elections can be traced to many college campuses including Kansas State University, Texas State University, the University of Maryland at College Park, the University of Oregon, The Ohio State University, Miami University, and Xavier University. The last three schools are all located in Ohio.

The Collegian, the student newspaper at Kansas State University, reported that TPUSA had involvement in their student government election. They also reported that Turning Point USA has created the “Campus Victory Project” in which TPUSA’s goal is to “commandeer the top office of Student Body President at each of the most recognizable and influential American universities,” according to a 28-page digitized guide that was attached to the article.

The Collegian is not the only news source reporting on TPUSA’s involvement with student government elections. The Chronicle of Higher Education, a news agency that publishes information pertaining to colleges and higher education, featured an article regarding the issue on its website. Similarly, Berkeley Diversity of the University of California, Berkeley does as well.

In a separate article, The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about the “Campus Victory Project,” breaking down the 28-page guide into 5 takeaways.

“One thing that I do care about is making sure that freedom of speech is protected because I believe in a marketplace of ideas and freedom of expression. That is why I find TPUSA’s shady election practices disturbing; freedom of expression works when people are ethical, transparent, and honest about their views. It’s not a freedom to lie,” said Laura Struve, a professor of English at WC.

One thing that I do care about is making sure that freedom of speech is protected because I believe in a marketplace of ideas and freedom of expression. That is why I find TPUSA’s shady election practices disturbing; freedom of expression works when people are ethical, transparent, and honest about their views. It’s not a freedom to lie.”

Laura Struve

Interfering with student government elections is not the only reason TPUSA is involved with controversy. The conservative nonprofit runs another project called the “Professor Watchlist.”

This project’s mission as described on its website is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

The website has one entry for The Ohio State University but has no entries for Wilmington College. 

“I think the list is a little bit silly, but McCarthyistic projects are never a good look for any organization, especially one that claims to be interested in freedom of speech. Overall, people should not worry about students being ‘indoctrinated’ by leftist professors.  If I could indoctrinate students, I would make sure they used commas correctly. I care way more about that than students’ political positions. Most professors just want students to do their homework,” said Struve.

The New York Times wrote an article about it entitled: “Professor Watchlist Is Seen as Threat to Academic Freedom.” In this article, the author discusses what the watchlist is and how professors from across America have reacted to it. 

“The existence of a TPUSA chapter does not mean that our professors will be sought after for this list. The point of this organization is it will allow conservatives to voice their right to free speech. The watchlist does not and will not cause any harm to our professors’ careers,” said Schroer.

The project’s website has about 250 entries on it.

“As a conservative college student, I can appreciate the value in having such a database, as it can be extremely uncomfortable to be a conservative in a class led by a professor pushing a radical left-wing agenda.  In some cases, students can even be forced to choose between compromising their principles and getting a low grade.  Granted, I do feel that Wilmington College is better than some colleges in this regard, and I do not think this situation is likely to happen here. However, I can also see how maintaining such a database may be a turnoff to those on the political left, since it probably appears to them that the organization must be a radical group seeking to extinguish objecting opinions,” said Copeland.

The website describes itself as a list of news stories that have already existed and have already been published by many news organizations throughout recent years. 

“Honestly, I see this as contradicting. ‘Let professors say what they want, but don’t be radical.’ I think that’s contradicting itself. This professor’s watch thing is basically saying, ‘hey, here are people who might challenge your perspective and make you rethink your “solid” beliefs.’ There will always be people who say, do, or believe things that we disagree with; it doesn’t mean we need to watch them, just accept the differences,” said Williams.

Students, professors, and colleges themselves are not the only entities to have concerns over Turning Point USA. Other conservative groups are also leery of TPUSA. 

One such group is the Young America’s Foundation (YAF). YAF, according to their website, is “committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.

As the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement, [YAF] introduces thousands of American youth to these principles. We accomplish our mission by providing essential conferences, seminars, educational materials, internships, and speakers to young people across the country.”

Young America’s Foundation combined with Young Americans for Freedom as a way to create chapters on high school and college campuses across the country.

YAF published a memo written by Kimberly Begg, the vice president and general counsel, on its website, advising its students about and warning them against TPUSA. 

“The long-term damage TPUSA could inflict on conservative students and the Conservative Movement can no longer be ignored. Although it runs counter to our instincts to advise students against becoming involved with other conservative organizations, students deserve to be warned about TPUSA,” said Begg at the end of the memo.

The long-term damage TPUSA could inflict on conservative students and the Conservative Movement can no longer be ignored. Although it runs counter to our instincts to advise students against becoming involved with other conservative organizations, students deserve to be warned about TPUSA.”

Kimberly Begg

The memo states that it is not a “comprehensive analysis of concerns about TPUSA’s approach,” but it does outline the false factual claims TPUSA has made, how TPUSA has covered up its mistakes, the exaggeration of its student involvement, its lack of experience with activism on college campuses, and other transgressions. 

“I don’t think they should have a chapter on our campus because they are routinely found to have interfered improperly with student elections—they are a corrupt organization. Other conservative youth organizations like Young Americans for Freedom warn their members against doing things with Turning Point USA because they have a shady reputation. I think it would be fine for WC to have a YAF chapter or a College Republicans chapter in order to embrace all political voices,” said Struve.

Despite the disagreements, some students are finding ways to be optimistic. 

“I think it’s great we are having discussions like these. I know we have had some tension on our app and such, and I myself have spoken, but the fact that even when we are disagreeing, we as a community are challenging each other and that is amazing. I do think things with this denial could’ve been a little less intense, but the fact of the matter is now we are discussing something together and that’s what’s important. So, for those who don’t feel they can express themselves, now is the opportunity. There is a lot of heat on SGA surrounding this topic, but remember there is always a reason for something, and I feel proud of those trying to solve the issue in a respectful manner,” said Williams.

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Links to online sources referenced in this article can be found below:

Berkeley Diversity’s article about TPUSA funding candidates running for student governments:

https://diversity.berkeley.edu/news/right-wing-group-funneling-thousands-dollars-student-governement-campaigns

Breitbart News’ article about Logan Schroer’s social media post:

https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2020/05/15/wimington-college-faculty-advisor-warns-student-body-president-not-to-make-pro-conservative-social-media-posts/

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article about Texas State University’s student government:

https://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Student-Leader-Resigns-at/244604

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article about the “Campus Victory Project”:

https://www.chronicle.com/article/5-Takeaways-From-Turning/243064

The Collegian’s (the student newspaper at Kansas State University) article about TPUSA’s involvement with its campus student government:

https://www.kstatecollegian.com/2019/04/02/turning-point-tried-influencing-elections-at-k-state-sga-just-allocated-them-3000-to-host-speakers-on-campus/

The Collegian’s upload of the 28-page guide for the “Campus Victory Project”:

https://issuu.com/ecollegian/docs/tpusa_campus_victory_project.pdf

The Miami Student’s (the student newspaper at Miami University) article about TPUSA’s involvement with its campus student government:

https://www.miamistudent.net/article/2019/11/conservative-group-tries-to-buy-influence-in-asg

The New York Times’ article about the “Professor Watchlist”:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/us/professor-watchlist-is-seen-as-threat-to-academic-freedom.html

The “Professor Watchlist” website:

https://www.professorwatchlist.org/

The University Star’s (the student newspaper at Texas State University) article about TPUSA’s involvement with its campus student government:

https://universitystar.com/25470/news/allegations-against-president-boreing-reveal-student-government-trend-of-tpusa-affiliation/

The Xavier Newswire’s (the student newspaper at Xavier University) article about TPUSA’s involvement with its campus student government:

https://xaviernewswire.com/2019/11/13/tpusa-tries-to-take-over-sga/

Turning Point USA’s website:

https://www.tpusa.com/

Turning Point USA’s chapter handbook:

https://www.tpusa.com/chapterhandbook

Young America’s Foundation’s memo published on their website:

https://www.yaf.org/news/yaf-memo-advising-our-students-about-tpusa/

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The featured image is Turning Point USA’s logo.

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