TPUSA deemed 'direct threat,' denied recognition at Santa Clara
- A conservative student group at Santa Clara University was denied official recognition after being compared to white nationalist organizations and accused of being antithetical to the university’s values.
- One week before the Student Senate was scheduled to vote on the group's status, staff adviser Tedd Vanadilok opted to show a slideshow implicitly comparing the organization to white supremacist and white nationalist groups.
- Vanadilok claims that he clarified after the presentation that TPUSA is not actually a white supremacist group, but conservative students believe the damage had already been done by the insinuation.
A conservative student group at Santa Clara University was denied official recognition after being compared to white nationalist organizations and accused of being antithetical to the university’s values.
In mid-January, a coalition of conservative students submitted a request for university recognition of a Turning Point USA chapter, which was to be debated and voted on at a February 2 student government meeting.
However, just one week before the vote, at the January 26 meeting, Student Senate staff adviser Tedd Vanadilok opted to show a slideshow implicitly comparing the organization to white supremacist and white nationalist groups.
The PowerPoint, which was obtained by Campus Reform, was titled “White Nationalist, Alt-Right, & Other Groups on College Campuses.”
The PowerPoint began by giving definitions of white nationalism and providing background information on a group called “Identity Evropa,” as well as ideologue Richard Spencer, both of which have been accused of white supremacy.
Despite no apparent associations with white nationalism or nationalist groups, Turning Point USA was casually tacked onto the end of the PowerPoint with the disclaimer that founder Charlie Kirk has “disavowed any relationship between TPUSA with the alt right or any white supremacist groups.”
David Warne, a student senator, said he knew that TPUSA would have issues winning the vote for recognition after the Senate had seen the PowerPoint linking them to white supremacy.
“In anticipation of the coming contentious Senate meeting, we met with [an] assembled coalition [of conservative students] and decided on a plan,” Warne explained. “The prospective TPUSA chapter would present itself to Senate as honestly as humanly possible: it would be a non-partisan platform to talk about the facets of economic conservatism.”
Despite the preparation, Warne said the meeting was as long and controversial as the conservative students expected, with about 50 protesters and only 20 supporters showing up.
“The senate discussion (which included the public) was centered on the chapter’s affiliation with the national organization, which was problematic in the eyes of many because of past ties with Milo Yiannopoulos, and because of the organization's maintenance of the Professor Watchlist,” Warne told Campus Reform.
In a video obtained by Hypeline and provided to Campus Reform, one student opposed to the group called the prospective TPUSA chapter a “direct threat” because of its views.
“I am a Muslim as well and they are a direct threat to me, so you do not speak for all of us,” the student said, responding to another Muslim student who approved of the club.
Another speaker dramatically charged TPUSA with being “against our humanity.”
“I am the Director of the Multicultural Center...I am also staff. We just want to reiterate that this organization, nationally and here on this campus, is against our ideals as a Jesuit philosophy and, more than anything, it is against our humanity,” the speaker asserted, “and that is something that every single Senator needs to take into consideration when it comes to voting...this is not right, this is not who we stand for as a whole university
Ultimately, the Student Senate voted 16-10, with 2 senators absent, to deny the club official recognition.
In an email to the group after the meeting, student senator Karsten Anderson told them to reapply next semester, but to consider changing their name to the “Free Trade Club” in order to differentiate themselves from the national TPUSA organization.
“The biggest concern for Senate, as well as some of the campus, was your ties to the national organization, Turning Point USA,” Anderson admitted. “As mentioned last night at Senate, a possible solution is changing to become the Free Trade Club. Another concern was the similarity to the political groups on campus.”
Notably, during the same meeting, the Senate chose to approve a “He for She” club, which will join other left-leaning groups at Santa Clara such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Undocumented Student and Ally Association, and College Democrats. The only comparative right-leaning organization recognized by the school is the College Republicans.
Caleb Alleva, the prospective president of TPUSA, told Campus Reform that he felt the senators were voting based on personal biases and not because of any reasonable objections to the group.
“Some senators might have wanted to avoid the controversy and thought it was easier to vote no, rather than vote yes on a club that seemed unpopular,” Alleva ventured. “In the end I believe the vote had a lot to do with personal bias.”
Campus Reform reached out to Tedd Vanadilok about his presentation on white supremacy, to which he responded by insisting that his intention was not to put TPUSA in that camp or to influence the student senators opinions on the club.
“At the start of the presentation, I encouraged the senators to research on their own, vet their own sources, and use critical thinking skills so that they could form their own perspectives and make their own decisions,” Vanadilok said. “What I was presenting was meant to be informational about what has been going on on college campuses—including ours—and what groups and individuals they need to be aware of.”
He also asserted that he clarified after his presentation that he didn’t actually think TPUSA was a white supremacist group, but acknowledged that the damage may have already been done.
Student Senator Ahmer Israr, who strongly supported TPUSA's efforts to gain official recognition, corroborated this account of the meeting, telling Campus Reform that "[Vanadilok] did attempt to clarify that he did not mean to associate the two within an hour of the initial presentation after the obvious undertones of his presentation were pointed out to him."
“While I stand by my decision to share the presentation with the senators, I would have provided the clarification earlier and would have considered a different title for the presentation,” Vanadilok said.
According to Warne, TPUSA will continue to push for recognition as a club on campus despite the initial setback.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey