Gay students at Vanderbilt University are complaining about how they are being treated by some officially recognized student groups on campus. How can this be? After all, last fall, the university decided that to be officially recognized, student groups had to disavow any beliefs about sex within the confines of marriage because it would have precluded a gay student from holding an office in that group. What could they possibly have to complain about?
In the face of efforts by Tennessee’s legislature over the last year to protect Christian campus ministries, Vanderbilt has said more times than I can count that it is against discrimination, that it wants an inclusive campus, and that it wants every student to feel welcome and accepted by any student group. Clearly, Vanderbilt is saying it does not want to put its stamp of approval on any kind of discrimination.
But like many liberal institutions, Vanderbilt seems to have a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of tolerance. If you are willing to “read their lips” about wanting to stamp out intolerance and believe it, then you probably liked George H. W. Bush.
Here is what an openly gay student recently said in the university’s student newspaper about fraternities on campus:
“Homophobia indeed exists at this school. . . . It exists in the conscious or subconscious exclusion of homosexuals from mainstream Greek Life. It exists when fraternity members on a panel . . . describe ‘personality’ as the most important part of their critical analyses of rushes.”
The student rightly notes: “Tell me what ‘personality’ means?”
Another student article gives us some insight into this question. At a recent anonymous meeting of some gay students and fraternity men, one of the defenders of the fraternities said, “Maybe fraternities don’t interest gay men.”
Can you imagine what would have happened had I said that? No wonder the meeting had to be anonymous.
But here was my favorite defense and the one the gay student noted:
“If the personality doesn’t fit in with the rest of the fraternity’s, then that’s probably not the best fraternity for him.”
So at Vanderbilt it is okay for a group of guys at a fraternity to say someone’s “personality” is not a “good fit” as a member, but it is not okay for sincere Christians to say that if someone doesn’t share their sincerely held beliefs then that person is not a “good fit” as an officer.
The coup de gras in all this is the answer the university gave last year, in writing, to a question (No. 6) about whether student organizations could impose “qualification or performance-based eligibility requirements.” The answer:
“Yes, as long as such requirements do not serve as pretexts for exclusion based on status or belief.”
The gay students have rightly exposed the fact that “personality” is being used as a membership criteria by fraternities as a “pretext for exclusion.”
And the university hasn’t done anything about it. In a sense, these students are protesting the fact that Vanderbilt won’t extend its non-discrimination policy to fraternities.
It seems that the real “pretext for exclusion” here is Vanderbilt’s non-discrimination policy. The policy is being used by Vanderbilt to hide its contempt of Christian beliefs about sex and marriage and to rid its campus of those who would stand up for those beliefs.
I can’t think of any other good reason for why Vanderbilt would turn a blind eye to fraternities . . . unless, of course, the administration thinks there are too many wealthy, homophobic fraternity alumni who would withhold their financial support if their organizations were treated like the Christians.
- Throw Open the Closet, guest editorial in the Vanderbilt Hustler, March 28, 2013
- The Intersection of Gays and Greeks, Vanderbilt Hustler, March 28, 2013
- Vanderbilt University Nondiscrimination Policy FAQ