You may have heard about our difficulties at Vanderbilt as a religious student organization that wants to ensure the integrity of our religious message and purpose by requiring that our student leaders believe in our message and the beliefs that underlie it. The University’s constant line is that they want to “end discrimination” and yet they don’t seem to see that it is discrimination to prohibit the primary means by which religious groups are able to preserve their voices and identities. It has been difficult for our staff there (and myself as their counsel) because we want to affirm that we hate discrimination, that we want to welcome any student from any background to participate and that we want to share the message of hope found in Christ with them. Yet we believe that diversity is best accomplished when different student clubs are able to strongly and articulately represent differing viewpoints and are able to preserve those perspectives over the years (through a leadership committed to upholding them). In light of these realities, Cru at Vanderbilt has decided not to comply with Vanderbilt’s policy at this point in time.
Here is an article sharing more about the “why” behind our decision that I wrote up for the Cru at Vanderbilt blog.
And here is another blog post from our InterVarsity colleagues at Vanderbilt that clarifies why the policy is of concern. The University is not just asking that anyone can apply for leadership; they are requiring that our groups not have any qualifications for leadership that are grounded in faith/belief criteria.
NEW UPDATE: There is a bill going through the Tennessee legislature that may force Vanderbilt’s hand a bit too. I am keeping my eye on it, and curious to see how it all plays out. Our staff are not sure how to take all these things in, and really don’t want to be constantly at odds with the University—they just want to maintain the integrity of the group and keep serving the student body there.
On a separate note: Interestingly, because we as Cru so strongly value being present and being a light in dark places in this country and around the world, we are making choices in some places to work within a framework similar to the one at Vanderbilt, even though it is not ideal. As is explained in the blog post linked above, we believe that the BEST way to preserve our voice is to have faith-based leadership requirements. But at a growing number of schools, we are being forced to use performance-based criteria for those applying for leadership, seeking to make sure they know what our organization is about and are willing to pursue the group’s purpose, whether or not they “believe” in it. We are praying that the focus on performance at these schools will not take away from the message of grace, hope and unconditional love that is the heart of the gospel message we proclaim, and that God will be glorified through our continued presence on these college campuses around the country.