A Letter to the Editor

The opinions expressed in The Lawrentian are those of the students, faculty and community members who wrote them. The Lawrentian does not endorse any opinions piece except for the staff editorial, which represents a majority of the editorial board. The Lawrentian welcomes everyone to submit their own opinions using the parameters outlined in the masthead.

Dear Editor, 

I am writing in response to an opinion piece written by Tim Moyer, “A Critique of the Hate-Speech Policy,” published by The Lawrentian on Jan.31, 2021. Many current students have expressed concern about the opinions voiced in the piece, and while I do not believe it is my place to comment on these opinions, there is a factual inaccuracy in the article that needs to be addressed. 

In “A Critique of the Hate-Speech Policy,” one of Mr. Moyer’s primary grievances is that a student organization which he led, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), was denied recognition by LUCC. He states, “The campus YAF chapter was denied recognition on the basis that its opposition to communism in the national charter violated the non-discrimination policy of Lawrence University.” This is simply incorrect — YAF was denied recognition, but it was certainly not due to “opposition to communism.” I was present at the general council meeting in 2018 when it was decided that Young Americans for Freedom would not be granted recognition by LUCC for a trial period. In fact, I helped write a letter that was read as a community concern during that meeting, which ultimately led to the aforementioned decision by LUCC. My perspective is not an unbiased one, but I can share with current Lawrentians the same information that I shared with LUCC at the time: 

In 2007, the YAF chapter at Michigan State University was declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center after hosting a series of anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ events, as well as inviting open white nationalist Preston Wiginton to campus. In 2017, according to a petition by UW-Madison’s Student Coalition for Progress, their student body’s YAF chapter intentionally outed and misgendered a transgender student, threatened the safety of members of student government and harassed and violated the privacy of a student of color, among other grievances. The Lawrence Student Handbook states that the LUCC Steering Committee shall deny an organization’s application “if the committee believes that a group’s action or behavior is likely to lead to harassment or discrimination on the basis of identity” (page 111).

I believe Mr. Moyer’s use of “opposition to communism” to summarize the concern that was presented to LUCC regarding YAF is disingenuous, if not purposefully misleading. The fact is that a governing body cannot condone or include organizations which have missions that are contrary to their own constitution. The YAF mission statement goes further than simply “opposing” communism; it includes a passage about “the forces of international communism,” asserting that “the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace.” This language is incompatible with the preamble of the LUCC constitution, which states, “LUCC leads campus in our collective mission to foster a respectful environment that actively stands for the equitable and inclusive treatment of all individuals and groups” (page 98 of the Student Handbook). 

Mr. Moyer’s article also inaccurately asserts that the decision by LUCC not to recognize his YAF chapter was based on the non-discrimination policy of Lawrence University. Both of the policies quoted above come from the LUCC Constitution, and the governance decision was unrelated to non-discrimination or hate-speech policies on a university level. Following this decision, YAF members could continue to meet and speak out as they wished, but it was decided that LUCC funding and recognition could not be granted to an organization with a mission that is contrary to the guidelines of the LUCC Constitution.  

One of the challenges of running a student government, a newspaper or any student organization at a university such as Lawrence is the rate of turnover, both of leadership and group membership. Student groups often lack the benefit of institutional memory, which can make it more difficult to make progress or avoid repeating past mistakes. I hope that the context shared in this letter can serve as a reminder to think critically about the way we present history even with regard to recent events in our own small community. 

Rebecca Bernheimer ‘19 

Letters to the Editor can be sent in to Opinions & Editorials Editor, Lauren Kelly, at lawrentian@lawrence.edu. We review all letters and consider them for publication. The Lawrentian staff reserves the right to edit for clarity, decency, accuracy and grammar. All letters should be submitted on the Monday before publication, and should not be more than 500 words.