Palpable apprehension filled the air on January 31, 2012 during the three-hour forum addressing the University’s new non-discrimination policy that Vanderbilt will begin to enforce in the Fall of 2012. The town hall meeting enticed a crowd exceeding the occupancy limit of Furman Hall room 114, where university staff had to turn people away at the door.
Compliance with the new policy rests on an organization’s annual registration agreement to be accessible to all students regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc. (known as the “All-Comers” Policy). Compliance additionally stipulates that “all comers” be permitted to seek leadership within the organization.
“In order to be a registered student organization—which means using the Vanderbilt name, having the opportunity to apply for funding from student activity fees and access to university resources—opportunities for membership and leadership must be accessible to all,” said Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs, in a written statement.
The "All-Comers" approach drew criticism from members of the town hall audience, including second-year law student and Vanderbilt CLS President Justin Gunter.
Gunter restated the Supreme Court’s demand that the policy be applied to every student organization, without exception. The Court's ruling dictates that the “All-Comers” Policy apply equally to honor societies, sport teams, fraternities and sororities.
Vice Chancellor Williams repeatedly used the Martinez case as justification for the new policy and said that Vanderbilt aspires to have a true All-Comers Policy. He even went as far to say that the members of Vanderbilt's administration "don't want to carve out exceptions." In response to a question on the legal necessity of such a policy, Vice Chancellor Williams additionally stated: "If you're saying, could we make an exception and still be within the law? Sure, but we have an All-Comers Policy that we would then be violating if we made an exception." Williams admitted there is no federal or state law requiring such a policy, expressing that allowing fraternities, sororities and sports teams to discriminate based on sex, regardless of what Title IX allows, would be nothing short of a direct violation of the university's new purported "All-Comers" Policy.
Jordan Rodgers, quarterback at Vanderbilt University, brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was among students who spoke out against the policy. "The purpose of this organization is to teach this faith," Rodgers said. "So, the fact that we are not going to change the fact that you have to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ to be a teacher, to be a leader ... we don't feel that's discriminating, we don't feel that's a problem ... and I think (the policy) undermines the mission of every organization on campus."
McCarty and Williams disagreed with Rodgers statement. "Any student in good standing must be eligible for membership in any registered student organization that he or she has a sincere interest in," McCarty claimed. "When it comes to leadership, the same basic principle must apply, that is all members must be eligible for leadership positions."
After attending the forum, I continue to hold the opinion that the all-comers policy has the potential for detrimental results. Groups who gather upon the basis of shared beliefs enhance a university’s ability to foster diversity without detracting from its ability to value non- discrimination. I believe it is not only acceptable and necessary, but beneficial, for volleyball players to have a volleyball club, for environmentalists to have an environmentalists club, and for Christians to have a Christian club. A deadline for compliance has been set for April, when campus groups reapply for registered student organization status. While it seems administration is unlikely to alter this new policy, I can only hope it doesn’t lead to the demise of religious life on campus.