Several Cornell College students are accusing student senators of having a liberal bias after the campus leaders rejected a request to start a Cornell chapter of Turning Point USA — a national organization criticized for trending toward the alt-right.
Turning Point USA was founded in 2012 by conservative activist Charlie Kirk with a stated mission “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.”
Critics of the group — including the Southern Poverty Law Center — say it promotes racist and sexist ideology through speakers and a “professor watch list” that calls out faculty members who “advance leftist propaganda.”
Turning Point has representation on more than 1,200 high school and college campuses, including chapters at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Kirkwood Community College. But some Iowa colleges have rejected official chapters, including Drake University and Wartburg College.
Cornell College in Mount Vernon last week added its name to that list after student senators voted 14-5 — with three abstentions — to deny it chapter status.
“The concerns regarding this potential student organization outweighed the group’s potential contributions to campus,” according to the Cornell student senate’s official rationale. “These concerns were highlighted by the conflict between the values and policies of Cornell College and the actions of Turning Point USA leaders, members, sponsored speakers, or programs that included: hateful, sexist, racist, or otherwise demeaning or discriminatory messages; and, slandering college employees and attempting to restrict free speech through the Professor Watchlist.”
The senate was careful to say its decision was based on principles “and not political viewpoints.” But Cornell sophomore Adam Tvedt, one of those behind the request, said he’s not so sure.
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“We met every guideline that was laid out in the student senate’s constitution but still were denied,” he said.
In applying, Tvedt and Jack Beaumaster drafted a constitution, submitted a petition of more than 100 supporting signatures and sat for questioning before the senate and its general assembly. They responded to queries for six to seven hours over a series of three meetings before the final rejection.
“We were called every name in the book, from racist to homophobe by students who came to observe the student senate meeting,” Tvedt said.
The only one of Cornell’s existing 53 student organizations that leans conservative is the College Republicans, and Tvedt said that group isn’t active. Student senators proposed they revive the group, but Tvedt suggested Turning Point would provide more balance to liberal groups.
The Cornell debate comes at a time of deepening political divides across the country. Iowa’s public universities have documented a rise in reports of racist and alt-right activity.
Republican state lawmakers recently introduced legislation detailing how public universities and community colleges should handle free-speech issues and belief-based groups.
The bill seems a direct response to accusations of discrimination from a UI faith-based student organization. Business Leaders in Christ is suing the UI in federal court after administrators deregistered the group for denying a leadership role to an openly gay student.
Tvedt said although Turning Point USA doesn’t require members to avow a specific ideology, some aspects of the UI case feel relevant.
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“It’s very similar in the sense that there’s definitely a lot of left-leaning groups on this campus and left-leaning social groups,” he said.
UI sophomore Marina Jaimes said a lopsided list of options was part of her reason for enlisting in the UI chapter of Turning Point USA last year, and now serving as its president.
“People have been shown only one side of a viewpoint, and they can’t even believe something else exists,” she said. “To see how angry some people get is really proof that there is a liberal bias — and that sometimes conservative ideas aren’t safe on a campus.”
Still, Cornell Student Senate President Ethan Berube said he repeatedly reminded his fellow senators their decision on Turning Point could not be based on politics.
“Our concerns were related to the national organization,” he said.
In recent years, Turning Point USA has taken heat for sponsoring controversial campus speakers like former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, abusing its nonprofit status and harassing professors.
Wendy Lynne Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. has researched Turning Point.
“Turning Point, in fact, is the alt-right,” she said, lauding Cornell’s leaders for rejecting it.
Beaumaster and Tvedt deny her characterization and say they are investigating next steps for a Cornell version of Turning Point USA.
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