Rejected Religious Student Groups Invite Vanderbilt into Constructive Conversation

Monday, May 21, 2012

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

Nashville, Tenn.—In the last month, Vanderbilt University has rejected a Christian student organization for requiring that its leaders have “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” The university also informed thirteen other student religious groups that it will not review their applications for recognition as registered student organizations, unless they pledge not to use religious criteria when selecting student leaders.

“In the pursuit of its “all-comers policy”, Vanderbilt has withdrawn its welcome mat from 15 student organizations including Vandy+Catholic, Baptist Campus Ministry, and InterVarsity, “ said Pieter Valk, a student with Navigators at Vanderbilt. “Those groups serve over 1,400 students, more than one out of 10 students at Vanderbilt. It’s ironic: even as Vanderbilt pursues a policy to affirm campus diversity, it’s acted to eliminate a large and vibrant community on campus.”

On May 21, student religious groups issued an open letter to the Vanderbilt administration and Board of Trust, urging the university to develop a policy which values both diversity and religious liberty. Signed by 12 of the groups rejected by Vanderbilt, the letter states, “We reiterate our support of a fair and reasonable non-discrimination policy. We agree that all campus groups should be open in membership to all students. We would affirm the university’s nondiscrimination policy if it clearly allowed religious groups to have religious qualifications for student leaders – as is the case at most American universities.”

“Students have repeatedly and respectfully expressed our concerns to the administration for nearly a year now. Not only has the Vanderbilt administration ignored us, but they have also shown blatant disregard for similar appeals made by the Tennessee legislature and 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The administration has actively pursued a policy which they know would force our student organizations off campus,” said graduate student Ty McCleery. “We’re asking the Vanderbilt administration to reconsider their position. We simply request a policy which affirms both non-discrimination and the creedal integrity of faith-based student groups.”

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical organization whose groups at Vanderbilt have lost their registered status, stated on its blog, “We want to stay true to the creedal tradition we have inherited, which is why we ask our students to affirm this creed. It protects the religious identity and particularity of our group. Whether the university means to or not, taking away this ability will slowly lead to a washing out and watering down of our basic faith.”

“We are deeply saddened that Vanderbilt has chosen a course which penalizes religious organizations that require leaders to share their beliefs,” said Tish Warren, a campus minister with Intervarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship. “We love Vanderbilt, and we want it to remain a place where student religious groups who take their beliefs seriously are welcomed. We’re convinced that Vanderbilt will be a stronger, more diverse community with a more robust intellectual conversation if it allows the whole gamut of religious and non-religious students represented in the student body to choose to form communities around their beliefs.”

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By dpg96