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The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

UWL caves to legal demand challenging its diversity and inclusion statement for student organizations

Young+Americas+Foundation+logo.+Image+retrieved+from+yaf.org.+
Young America’s Foundation logo. Image retrieved from yaf.org.

On Thursday, Dec. 14, The Racquet Press received information regarding a legal demand brought against the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. 

The demand came after Young America’s Foundation (YAF) applied to become a recognized organization at UWL, but was denied due to the lack of a diversity and inclusion (D&I) statement in its bylaws. This statement became a requirement in 2021 by UWL’s Student Association (SA) in its resolution SA2021-040.  The D&I statement reads: 

“The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse [Organization Name] recognizes and values the diverse identities, backgrounds, and beliefs of our faculty and of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student body. Our definition of diversity includes, but is not limited to ability, age, class, documentation status, gender identity, language, military status, nationality, race, religion, and sexual orientation. We are committed to providing and promoting an environment free of prejudice by addressing issues of equity and justice in our community, and we support the success of marginalized identities.”

According to the YAF website, the organization is “the leading organization for young conservatives, helping students find support, promote conservatism, and take action.” 

Representing YAF are the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF). In an email sent to UWL’s Program Coordinator for Student Organizations, Kyle Hutson, University Centers Director, Kyle Burke, and Universities of Wisconsin (UW) General Counsel, Quinn Williams, WILL and MSLF stated, “compelling YAF to endorse the ‘inclusivity statement’ violates YAF’s and its members’ clearly-established rights to freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment, and thus subjects you to individual liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” 

The email stated how UWL’s D&I statement forces YAF to assert beliefs they do not believe. One aspect of the D&I statement mentioned in the email was sexual identity. “The requirement that YAF state that it ‘recognizes and values . . . diverse . . . gender identit[ies]’ asks student groups like YAF to deny biological reality.” 

The email continued, “Since the term ‘gender identity’ is generally used in contexts where it is contrasted with individuals’ objectively ascertainable biological sex, to ‘recognize’ a gender identity is tantamount to a statement of actual belief that a person asserting a cross-sex gender identity is in fact the sex they assert themselves to be.”

Additionally, the email sent by WILL and MSLF stated, “forcing YAF to mouth a commitment to advancing the interests of individuals who lack ‘documentation’ to be legally present in the United States, requires them to state opposition to the enforcement of valid immigration laws.”

It continued, “the extent the University is compelling YAF to state that it ‘recognizes and values the diverse . . . beliefs of [UWL] faculty,’ it is potentially forcing YAF to assert an untruth.” Finally, the email stated, “forcing a student group to express that it is ‘committed to . . . addressing issues of equity and justice,’ is a naked attempt to force it to mouth support for race-conscious policymaking in the University setting and at a broader social level.”

After stating its claims, WILL and MSLF demanded that UWL remove the D&I statement requirement since it goes beyond the non-discrimination statement already enforced by the UW System.

Responding to WILL and MSLF, UW System General Counsel, Quinn Williams notified UWL Chancellor, Joe Gow today [Dec 15] that the D&I statement adopted by SA is prohibited by Regent Policy Document 30-6, entitled “Recognition of Student Organizations” (RPD 30-6) under the “Policy” section, which states:

“Student organizations that select their members or officers on the basis of commitment to a set of beliefs (e.g., religious or political beliefs) may limit membership, officer positions, or participation in the organization to students who affirm that they support the organization’s goals and agree with its beliefs, so long as no student is excluded from membership, officer positions, or participation on the basis of his or her race, color, creed other than commitment to the beliefs of the organization, religion, national origin, disability, ancestry, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status or parental status, or, unless exempt under Title IX, sex.”

As a result, the D&I statement adopted by SA in SA2021-040 is no longer in effect, effective immediately.

Responding to the removal of the D&I statement, WILL’s Deputy Counsel Dan Lennington stated, “We are proud to stand by YAF and the students who stood up to the Administration. The First Amendment prohibits the University from controlling what you think, what you believe, and what you say. We are proud to represent any student wishing to assert their constitutional rights.”

The Racquet Press will update this article as new information is presented.

Update 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 16:

Upon reaching out to the Chair of YAF, First-year Student, Ryan Kitzan said, “I consider this a win for free speech and our constitutionally protected rights. Public Universities have no right to compel ideological speech from their students.”

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About the Contributor
Jenasea Hameister, Managing Editor
Year at UWL: Senior PGPs: She/Her/Hers Hometown: Deforest, WI Major: Public Administration Minor: Legal Studies Other Campus Involvement: SUFAC Chair, La Crosse District Five Alderwoman, Honors Research Candidate, Political Science & Public Administration Association member Future Plans after Graduation: Pursuing advocacy journalism after graduation Favorite Activity in La Crosse: Yoga at Root Down and coffee afterward
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  • J

    Jane DoeJan 2, 2024 at 3:11 pm

    As someone who works in law, my understanding of the original bill was it was only applicable to organizations that have open membership policies. I would look at this as a comparison to Roberts v. United States Jaycees. The Jaycees weren’t allowed to discriminate because it was a large organization at the national level that was un selective when it comes to members. I would say that YAF is in the same boat since their national website says anyone can join as long as they are at least 13 years old and a full time student. If YAF had a membership process like Greek organizations, this would obviously be a very different story. I’m pretty moderate when it comes to politics, but I think it’s a shame the university let this slide because I think they had a solid case here.

    Reply
    • J

      John DoeJan 30, 2024 at 4:11 pm

      As I understand it, the University’s rule applies to “MEMBERSHIP criteria”, not “beliefs.” IF YAF was excluding was excluding females, homosexuals, and non-binary students from “membership,” this would be a very different case. But YAF isn’t doing that. While it seems fundamentally obvious that non-binary people may not want to join a group that works to support legislation against them, those groups have that protection under the First Amendment for those beliefs.
      “But if only popular ideas were protected, we wouldn’t need a First Amendment.” – ACLU

      Reply
  • K

    Killer MarmotDec 19, 2023 at 9:18 am

    You have the right to your political opinions. You do not have the right to compel others to agree with those opinions, no matter how convinced you are of their truth.

    This is not difficult.

    Reply