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Diversity and Discrimination on Campus

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dear Friends,
Do you remember all those cliques in high school? I do.

I can tell you straight off the bat that I was not in the cool group. I wasn’t even close. This was in spite of my 1980s perm, which is forever memorialized in my high school yearbook photo. (And while I’m on the subject, let me just say that I refuse to take responsibility for that choice. It was a global phenomenon, people.)

Whether your high school memories make you smile or cringe (or maybe both), I think we all like to believe that those times are in the past. Being “cool” shouldn’t have mattered so much then, and it certainly doesn’t matter now, right?

I have three words for you: high school reunion.

Someone I know just might have gone on a diet and bought a new outfit before her last high school reunion. She’s not proud of this. Just saying.

In all seriousness, recalling those days just makes me even more grateful that schools now seem to actively recognize the negative impact of cliques and the desperate need to be “cool.” If you have school age children, as I do, no doubt you have attended innumerable events where administrators and teachers hail the virtues of individuality, speaking against groupthink, bullying, and cliques.

I appreciate these events. I especially love it when schools go further to inspire kids by giving them handouts or booklets with lists of people who refused the lure of conventional “popularity” and ended up doing amazing things for our country and our world. These are great stories!

If high schools are now all about individuality and diversity, colleges claim to be even more so. I challenge you to find a college or university website that does not have a prominent section on its website expounding the values of diversity and the steps they are taking to ensure that their campus represents the broadest spectrum of individuals.

But, in a twist that is really heartbreaking, there’s one kind of diversity that certain campuses do not want: religious diversity.

By now, you might have heard about the incident at UCLA. A Jewish student ran for a position on student government. The student-faculty panel discussing the issue spent 40 minutes questioning whether a religious person could be unbiased. In other words: this student’s ability to do the job was directly and explicitly challenged on the sole basis of her religious practice.

Wow.

UCLA later apologized, but this public (and transcribed) discussion revealed something we should all find disturbing. It is becoming acceptable to seriously consider whether religious people are capable of high-level thinking.

Regrettably, this is not an isolated incident. Things like this are happening at colleges all over the country.

Take our clients, the wonderful and enthusiastically Christian ministry Chi Alpha. Chi Alpha is a group at California State University (Stanislaus campus) that recently had to cancel 15 events on campus because—and, please, read this slowly because I guarantee you will think it makes no sense—CSU says that Chi Alpha cannot expect its leaders to be Christian.

That’s right. Chi Alpha welcomes anyone, and I mean anyone, into their group. Christians, non-Christians. But they naturally expect the leaders of a group that engages in Christian worship and small-group Bible studies to be, well, Christian.

Chi Alpha is part of a national organization, Chi Alpha National. It’s the student arm of the Assemblies of God, one of the ten largest churches in the U.S. In 1953, Chi Alpha was founded as a way for college students to gather, learn about Christianity, worship and live out their Christian faith together.

At CSU Stanislaus, Chi Alpha has been recognized for over 40 years. But suddenly, just this fall, campus administrators informed Chi Alpha that their group was guilty of “religious discrimination.” Their crime? Asking their leaders, who lead Bible study and worship, to be Christian. As a result, they were locked out of their reserved meeting space and shut out of parts of campus life open to all other student groups.

A Christian group wants its leaders to be Christian. Is this really so odd? Fraternities limit their membership to men. Young Democrats and Young
Republicans groups on campuses expect their members to be respectively Democratic and Republican. And the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance can require its leaders to be feminists.

The list goes on, as it should. Why would any organization want a leader who doesn’t agree with its mission? It’s a recipe for self-destruction. It’s nonsensical. Nobody operates this way.

So why does CSU think it can do this to Chi Alpha? The answer is because they are strong-arming religious student groups. If a group refuses to give in to this ridiculous charge of “religious discrimination” simply for asking their leaders to believe in their mission, the school will pull its charter. It will prevent the group from taking part in campus life the way all other student groups do.

How’s that for valuing “diversity?”

CSU has changed its mind several times about what would make Chi Alpha palatable enough to be allowed on campus. But the long and short of it is this: no religious organization should be required to abandon its beliefs in order to exist at a public college.

Educators say they value diversity. They say they value individuality. They say they value the strength it takes to bow out of being conventional or “cool.”

But it’s pretty hard to say a place like CSU Stanislaus is walking the walk when it slaps groups like Chi Alpha with severe restrictions simply because of their religious beliefs.

Colleges are places where young adults should gain the skills to navigate through their adult lives in a truly diverse country and world. They don’t need to be “protected” from other people’s views—they need to learn how to interact and coexist with each other, not shut each other out.

Groupthink impoverishes our culture and weakens our democracy. CSU should recognize this. Maybe once they do, they will see that reinstating Chi Alpha would demonstrate an honest commitment to diversity.

Sincerely,
kristina

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

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