Student told she can’t start conservative club
This story has been updated with comments from HCC Dean of Student Affairs Jessica Chambers.
Moriah DeMartino, an incoming freshman at Hagerstown Community College (HCC) in Maryland, has been told she cannot establish a conservative club on campus.
When DeMartino approached school administrators in mid-August with her desire to start a Turning Point USA (TPUSA) club, she was told there could be no such club. Heather Barnhart, the school's club and student organization adviser, told Moriah in an email she could start a Republican club if, and only if, a Democrat club was launched simultaneously.
According to DeMartino, she was then put in contact with Political Science professor Eric Schwartz about starting a TPUSA club as a branch of the political science club on campus. Schwartz allegedly told DeMartino a Turning Point USA club was too political and that he would like to see a Young Republicans club alongside a Young Democrats club.
In an email to DeMartino, Schwartz said he had already begun searching for a faculty adviser for the group.
“One objective of the political science club is to seek balance. We welcome your participation in the political science club. Please bring your political viewpoints into the mix!” Schwartz wrote.
DeMartino told Campus Reform that she has received support from members of the student government and plans to petition for the TPUSA club when classes begin in September.
Turning Point USA is a non-partisan organization with chapters nationwide at public and private universities. TPUSA supports free markets, limited government, and educates students on fiscal responsibilities. The group does not promote or endorse candidates; its purpose is to identify, educate, and train students.
Barnhart said in an email to Campus Reform that a TPUSA club could not be started because the school does not “start new clubs that duplicate the purpose and mission of existing clubs.”
HCC currently has a small political science club; that, according to Moriah, is not active.
Despite Barnhart's claim, the school has a National Organization for Women (NOW) club, as well as a Spectrum club; both clubs have similar descriptions.
The NOW chapter’s description declares that the club “is a women's rights organization,” and says its “[p]riority issues are: constitutional equality; economic justice; ending violence against women; LGBT rights; racial justice; and reproductive rights and justice.”
Similarly, Spectrum’s description says that membership “consists of student who are open to and accepting of all identities. The primary goal is to create a safe environment for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, and strait [sic] allies.”
The webpage on HCC’s website that describes how to start a new club says that “a club or organization of special interest may be formed as long as it benefits the student body,” and that all clubs must be open to students regardless of “sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnic background, national origin, age, disability or religion.”
Moriah told Campus Reform that she was frustrated with her school.
“I am upset that I am being told that I can’t start a club on a public college campus. I understand the desire for the college to want to remain non-partisan. However, Turning Points USA is a non-partisan organization,” she said. “Any young political involvement is a win in my book; however, starting a TPUSA chapter is my first priority.”
Moriah has been contacted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and told Campus Reform she “will absolutely take it to that extreme [taking legal action] if necessary.”
Campus Reform reached Prof. Schwartz by phone Wednesday afternoon, but he had a guest in his office and requested that Campus Reform call him later. Campus Reform has left a voicemail and an email with Schwartz requesting comment.
In a statement to Campus Reform, HCC's Dean of Student Affairs Jessica Chambers said that she had reviewed Moriah's inquiry about starting a TPUSA chapter and "determined that this request does not meet the necessary requirements to allow [her] approval for the club's formation.
"The reason for my decision is based on several things, including the first statement listed under 'Starting a Club' on page two of HCC's Club Guide. It states the following: 'The first step to create a new club on campus is to research existing clubs to be sure the mission and purpose are not duplicated.'"
Dean Chambers goes on to encourage Moriah to participate in the existing Political Science Club, which has "broad" objectives, including "non-partisan, but inclusive, political engagement, political learning, and political instruction."
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @LaurenAHouck