Willamette University administrators reinstate College Republicans
Willamette University administration has reinstated College Republicans as an Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) club. This decision was announced at the Feb. 17 ASWU meeting by Dean of Students for Community Care and Inclusion, Olivia Muñoz. While disaffiliated, the College Republicans could still hold meetings, but the decision to reinstate them allows the club access to resources such as ASWU funds and reserving rooms.
The [College Republicans] club was [disaffiliated] at an Oct. 21 ASWU meeting that contained an approximately hour and a half of public comments where students expressed outrage over the guest speaker the club hosted for their Oct. 19 meeting. The guest, [Ray Hacke], is a lawyer for the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which has been [labeled] as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). According to those who attended the meeting, Hacke made transphobic comments and discussed cases he worked on relating to COVID-19 vaccination mandates, including talking about his clients comparing themselves to having to wear the Star of David. A review of the College Republicans meeting where Ray Hacke was present was conducted by the ASWU Executive Branch, with assistance from former Dean of Students for Community Care and Inclusion Abbas Hill, then Muñoz. The [review] was released at the Feb. 3 ASWU meeting after repeated delays.
In the ASWU meeting where Muñoz announced the reinstatement, she told the senate, “We don’t try to step in after ASWU decides other things. But after the review came out, [and] the investigative report was done by the review team, we felt that we had to correct that and have [since] reinstated the group.” When Senator Gus Gunter (‘23) asked for the logic behind the decision, Muñoz answered that there need to be opportunities for students to correct their behavior and do better, and that punitive measures prevent such chances. Muñoz added concerns that such things could happen to other groups beyond College Republicans, especially affinity groups who could bring speakers that could make others uncomfortable. Muñoz stated that while the review showed negligence on the part of the club’s officers, it did not show intentional harm.
During the rest of the meeting, senators, as well as members of the public, asked Muñoz questions about the decision, including questions about what is being done to prevent a similar incident and saying that College Republicans has not done anything to make amends. One student present, who identified herself as Adriana, raised concerns about backlash, especially the effects it could have on students of color and queer students if people outside of the Willamette community learned of the College Republicans disaffiliation. Senator Eliza Gonzalez (‘25) echoed what Adrianna said, saying she understands and shares the frustrations, but that those who wanted College Republicans to be active would keep pushing. Gonzalez also stated that the focus should be putting guidelines in place to fix and prevent things. Muñoz replied saying that there had been no campaign for reinstatement, “we did it because it was the right thing.”
In an email exchange, Muñoz emphasized another reason for the reinstatement: “Several students of color have expressed concern that the disaffiliation of the CR would bring backlash on Willamette from outside entities, and would disproportionately harm people of color on campus.” Muñoz said that these statements ask ASWU to consider the broader implications of disaffiliation and that she took the input into consideration, especially since students of color are underrepresented within ASWU.
When asked in an interview why College Republicans was reinstated, Muñoz first responded that there were missed opportunities for administrators to step in and have the issues with College Republicans be handled “at a level that didn’t blow up into a campus hullabaloo”. Muñoz added that she didn’t want to throw her fellow administrators under the bus, saying that people did what they thought was right in the moment. Muñoz said that she’s trying to handle the issue in a conversation with people coming together. Muñoz then added: “I'm doing things a little bit out of place, and that's my fault. Like, maybe I shouldn't have reaffiliated them first before backtracking, but I'm committed to those other parts too, which means honoring what the folks who were harmed want and need, and putting things in place for the College Republicans to do things better.”
Muñoz is now working with College Republicans to repair the harm done by them hosting Hacke on campus. She called it a “gigantic learning experience, and that shouldn’t be at the cost of other students, especially marginalized students. But I think we can move towards a place of healing.” To Muñoz, students should have a say in the healing, though she knows some students will not be satisfied.
College Republicans is now a fully ASWU-affiliated club again. College Republicans President Alexander Knorr (‘22), said “everything’s basically the same”, compared to pre-disaffiliation. When asked if there would be any repercussions for the anti-racism plan and ASWU bylaw violations laid out in the review, Muñoz responded, “I guess if you view me inserting myself into all their meetings as a repercussion then yes. I don’t know if they want me there but guess what, I’m showing up.” The College Republicans had previously given a [statement] to The Collegian in November.
In regards to his thoughts on the reinstatement, Knorr said: “I'm glad that we have College Republicans reinstated on campus as an official student organization. And that I'm glad that will give us the opportunity to do our best as students to be a positive part of our campus community and be there as a resource to all students and give back in good ways. “
Members of ASWU and [students] have expressed concern and disagreement with the reaffiliation. When asked what they thought of College Republicans’ reinstatement, Senator Inéz Nieves (‘24) responded “bullshit, is what I think.” Nieves was a senator at the time of disaffiliation and voted for it. They feel the disaffiliation was just saying that the senators who sought the disaffiliation followed the bylaws, principles and looked at the student code of conduct, following all the regulations in place as both students and senators. Justice Hollis Mantle (‘25), who was a senator at the time, said she voted for disaffiliation because she felt it was what her class wanted and, she believes, still wants. Mantle added that College Republicans did violate their anti-racism plan and she wants there to be consequences for that.
Chief Justice Colby Alexander (‘24) was also a senator at the time of disaffiliation and voted for it. Alexander was also the only one at the disaffiliation meeting to mention the possibility of reaffiliation. In an interview, Alexander said that if a club gets disaffiliated, they should recognize what they did wrong and then work with ASWU to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Mantle had similar views, saying she wished Muñoz had talked to ASWU: “I think we would've been more than happy to work with her to come to some sort of plan where the College Republicans could be reaffiliated.”
Both Alexander and Mantle said it was unclear if administration had the power to reinstate a club. Mantle said that even if administration could, to her it set a “super bad precedent” and ASWU is for students by students, so it’s frustrating that ASWU would not be consulted. Nieves called the decision an overreach by administration and said that it speaks to not respecting student government. Muñoz said she does understand the concern, but believes it is balanced by “precedent of having more involvement in groups when there is some kind of disagreement or a failure for them to properly prepare for the care for their fellow students” and she doesn’t anticipate needing to do more intervention.
Senator Gus Gunter (‘23) said the reinstatement is an issue that “really, more than anything, makes it clear that admin does not necessarily trust or respect the student body enough to take their opinion into consideration when making very fundamentally transformative decisions.” Gunter said administration is overriding ASWU in a way they’re not supposed to, but are able to because ASWU is essentially “a funding committee with delusions of grandeur.”
Gunter said he can see the train of logic administration had, but said that it was going to bring no good results and called the reasoning given for reinstatement flimsy. Gunter repeatedly expressed concern about whether the administration was simply trying to make the issue go away quickly.
Nieves said they are from the Deep South and are very aware of the bigotry the Republican Party is affiliated with, but knows that there is a conservatism separated from bigotry. Nieves added that unfortunately the conservatism shown by College Republicans last semester included bigotry, which [continued after] disaffiliation. At one point during the interview, Gunter pulled up the PJI SPLC page to address what the organization believes in. Gunter then pointed out that the PJI has attempted to ban gay marriage, advocated against banning conversion therapy and tried to repeal bans. Gunter said, “stuff such as conversion therapy and the rights of queer and trans minors is not a political issue. It is a human rights issue. And anyone who disagrees with the idea that queer and trans students should be provided with basic human dignity, is a soulless monster and does not deserve any level of respect. And I think there is a concerning amount of rhetoric by the administration to treat this incident as if the speaker and the organization was, say, the Federalist Society.”
Nieves has stated, both at the [Feb. 24 ASWU meeting] and in an interview, that they will not vote to fund any request from College Republicans and called on the rest of the senate to do the same. ASWU Treasurer Michael Burke (‘23) could not give a solid answer on if this would be allowed, since Willamette is a private institution and ASWU has certain rules to follow concerning distribution. However, ASWU has had instances in the past where the senate was stopped from [targeting] or [favoring] a specific club. Burke did note that “College Republicans, as long as I’ve been here, I don’t think have ever asked for funding.” Burke added that the one time they “might have,” it was for partnering with College Democrats, who the funds went through.
ASWU President Giovanni Bautista (‘22) declined to comment on his personal thoughts involving the reinstatement.
Gunter, who is President of College Democrats, said that the two clubs used to do events such as voter registration drives to appear bipartisan, due to requests from ASWU and university administrators. Gunter added that College Republicans had been mostly defunct during his time on campus, and that the few members they could reach “were perfectly willing to be the respectable conservative that we wanted to show up to a bipartisan event.” Gunter said that for College Democrats to do events with College Republicans again it would require “some guarantee that we would not be reputation laundering,” such as a in leadership or a significant record of change in behavior. Gunter said that as a club, College Democrats “would not be comfortable with conducting bipartisan events without some sort of guarantee that the College Republicans aren't going to, you know, advocate for the stripping of the rights of people we care about in private.”
Muñoz said that something beneficial to come out of the situation is that better guidelines are being developed for campus guests and speakers. “We're looking at our contracts for those folks to make sure they know that hate speech is not welcome here, that we have standards around being an inclusive environment.”
During its [March 3] meeting, ASWU passed a [resolution] clarifying the affiliation process that was authored after the reinstatement announcement. The resolution makes it so that student organizations can only be affiliated by the process laid out in the [bylaws], which requires Senate approval. The resolution adds a piece to the bylaws stating that any organization not affiliated by this process or disaffiliated and not properly reaffiliated will not be given any funding or support from ASWU. The resolution went into effect March 11.