The Vanderbilt University Board of Trust kicked off a two-day meeting today that could ultimately decide whether Christian student groups will remain on campus next semester.
The meeting marks the first time the board has included on its agenda a time to discuss the university’s new nondiscrimination policy, and its impact on Christian student groups. Under the policy, any religious groups that want official campus recognition must allow leadership positions to be open to anyone — even those who don’t share their beliefs.
And that is something most of the Christian groups on campus say they simply cannot do.
“This is the checkpoint in the road at which the administration will either approve of the policy or ask them to rethink it,” said Pieter Valk, spokesman for the coalition calling itself Vanderbilt Solidarity.
Earlier this month, two Catholic groups announced they will move off campus rather than be forced to comply with the policy — prompting the university to declare they will no longer be able to call themselves the “Vanderbilt” or “Vandy” chapters of their national organizations.
Meanwhile, 11 evangelical groups still on campus — Asian American Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cru, Medical Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Graduate Christian Fellowship, Bridges International, Lutheran Student Fellowship, Every Nation Ministries, Beta Upsilon Chi and Christian Legal Society — submitted their annual applications without changing their respective statements of faith. Those groups comprise approximately 1,500 students.
The response they get — and the timing of it — will indicate what the Board of Trust have to say to campus officials today and Friday, Valk said.
“If next week we all receive notification that our applications have been accepted,” it will be a clear signal that the board realizes the religious-freedom implications of the policy, Valk said. “If we have no response for weeks, it would be safe to conclude that they asked them to rethink their policy. Or we may be put in a third category, where we have all the privileges, but our constitution is still out of compliance or in question.
Today, Vanderbilt Solidarity had an informal lunch with two student representatives of the Board of Trust. Though the entire board was invited, only the student representatives attended.
“The message we consistently get from them is, ‘We don’t care about your voice,’” Valk said. “That’s kind of hard to take.”
On Wednesday, Vanderbilt Solidarity distributed 4,000 MP4 players containing a short video explaining why they refuse to comply with the nondiscrimination policy. They also held a prayer and worship session, led by country artist Ricky Skaggs, for the board meeting.
“We prayed that God would bless the members of the Board of Trust with wisdom, and prepare our hearts to respond,” Valk said. “No matter what the results, we will have to respond in some way, so we want to do that in a way that reflects God’s heart.
“What’s the greater story?” he added. “What’s God trying to teach us through this struggle? It’s good to know that there’s always work being done by the Holy Spirit.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Watch the video Vanderbilt Solidarity distributed on April 18.
Read the joint statement issued by Vanderbilt’s Christian student groups on April 9.
Watch the Jan. 31 Vanderbilt University town hall meeting on YouTube. Highlights can be found at the 14-minute and 2:53:00 marks.