Student Services turns down club after it passes through SGA
By Brittany Hackett | firstname.lastname@example.org
Student Services has turned down a proposal for Club UNITY, a club that focuses on promoting a positive image of the gay and lesbian community. This is the second time in three years that a club focused on such issues has been denied.
Chris Lauth, president of Club UNITY, said those involved with the club are “very disappointed, but not too surprised” with the decision, which was announced Oct. 9.
The club was denied because its “purpose does not fall within the realm of the mission of the college,” according to the official denial letter written by Dean of Student Services Dan Stewart. No elaboration was given in the letter, and Stewart would not comment on how the purpose of Club UNITY conflicted with the mission of the college. Stewart said he had no comments on the issue in general.
Lauth, a sophomore, called the reason for the denial “ironic, because I didn’t know that in our mission statement it says that we want to try and discriminate a big group of our students.”
According to the 2007-2008 Flagler College Catalog, the first paragraph of the Statement of Purpose says the college’s aim is “to provide a supportive and challenging environment in which students acquire knowledge, exercise good citizenship, and adhere to high ethical
According to its proposal, Club Unity’s Statement of Purpose is, “To create a safe and supportive environment as well as reflecting a true and positive image for and of gay, lesbian and bisexual people at Flagler College through community service, social events, and educational resources. It is the goal of this organization to promote UNITY of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.”
The club was passed through Flagler’s Student Government Association by more than the required two-thirds majority one week prior to being denied by Student Services. Lauth, who is secretary of SGA, said they were confident the club would pass through SGA, but knew it would be “a major uphill battle with administration.”
According to Stewart, they have the right to a presidential appeal by President William T. Abare, Jr. Lauth said the club just began the process of appealing.
“The matter has not reached my office. So, I am not in a position to comment on the club’s application at this time,” Abare said in an e-mail.
Club UNITY was first proposed at Flagler in 2004 as the Gay-Straight Alliance, which is heavily based on acting as a support group for the gay, lesbian and bisexual community.
Student Services rejected the GSA in October of 2004.
Last year, Lauth was approached to join the newly formed Club UNITY, which is different from GSA, he said, because the main focus of the club is to promote unity amongst both worlds — gay and straight — and promote a positive image of the gay community through community service, events and educational resources.
“We’re making a statement that, at this college, we’re not going to tolerate harassment or anything of that matter,” Lauth said.
Lauth said the club has a petition with over 150 signatures in support of Club UNITY and a large support group from the gay, lesbian, and straight community at Flagler and in St. Augustine, making the issue “personal with students.”
In addition to widespread community and student support, Club UNITY has the support of the Flagler College Faculty Senate Executive Board, according to Dr. Art Vanden Houten, chair of the Senate and also a member of the President’s Cabinet.
Senate approval is not part of the process of getting a club approved by the college. However, after Student Services denied Club UNITY, the issue was brought to the attention of the Cabinet, according to Vanden Houten. Due to his position in both groups, he said “to make it more representative, it seemed appropriate for me to solicit the views of the Senate” when considering the issue for the Cabinet.
“The (Senate) Executive Committee was unanimous in its view that this is a club that should be approved,” Vanden Houten said, adding that he plans to bring that view to Abare when the Cabinet discusses the issue again.
“I think the faculty are of the view that this represents a legitimate movement among students who are asking for a specific club,” Vanden Houten said. “They have done what they’ve been asked and what they’ve been required to do.”
“Certainly the mission as I understand it of the UNITY club and clubs of a similar nature on other campuses is to reach out, to end isolation, to create communication among groups of students,” Vanden Houten said. “And that seems to me, and that seemed as well to all the other Senators, to be strong reasons for approval.”
In the spring of 2007, Lauth wrote the club’s constitution and accepted the position of president. A proposal to become an official club on campus was submitted last spring, but according to Lauth, they were told it would be a long time before it could be passed. Lauth said a compromise was reached in which Club UNITY could hold events through Student Services while the administration worked to get support for the club from the Board of Trustees.
“As far as we were concerned, we were not happy with the answer, but it was OK for the time being,” Lauth said. “We would continue to work to get it passed, but at least we were able to get some of that message out and show how we were planning on operating.”
Lauth said after an article by The Gargoyle was written about the club, they were told they no longer could hold events, officially or unofficially, through Student Services and they had to follow the original protocol for getting approved, leading them to the position they are currently in.
“The message is clear that the administration does not want something like this,” Lauth said, adding that it is “puzzling” to him because of the college’s claim to listen to students’ ideas and issues.
“They’re not doing that for a majority of their students, whether you’re gay or straight,” Lauth said, “because there are plenty of straight people that are in very big support of this and they’re not being heard either.”
Lauth said the absence of a club like Club UNITY on Flagler’s campus is “an embarrassment.”
“The thing is there are students here that feel this school has let us down,” Lauth said. “We do not feel validated as students.”
For more information, go to flaglerclubunity.tripod.com, or contact Lauth at CLauth@flagler.edu.