When Norvilia Etienne set out to start a Students for Life chapter at Queens College in New York, she thought the hardest part would be overcoming her initial resistance to what she felt God was calling her to do.
She was wrong.
She dutifully worked through the process that Queens College has laid out for students wishing to start a new student organization on campus. But it seemed she was met with resistance at every turn.
The reason? The Queens College policies, as they were, gave unchecked power to college officials to deny certain student groups based solely on their viewpoint. There were no guidelines for those approving and denying the student groups that would ensure they made those decisions based on the facts rather than personal bias. Without recognition, the group could not reserve meeting space, bring speakers to campus, or do any of the things that student groups do to advocate for their beliefs.
On top of that, the policies only allowed student activity funding – which is a mandatory fee for all students – to be distributed only to recognized student groups and with similarly complete discretion. So, the school could exclude certain student groups from official status, which also kept them from receiving funding.
Simply put, the Queens College policies violated the First Amendment and the experience of Queens College Students for Life demonstrates just why policies like these can’t be allowed to stand.
Thankfully, in response to an Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit, Queens College recognized Students for Life and has now agreed to overhaul its policies to comply with the Constitution.
Now, student groups will not have to worry about going through the process – and discrimination – that Norvilia had to endure.
Even before she turned in an application, the Queens College Student Life Office discouraged her from applying. She pushed forward anyway. Once she had turned in the application, she met with the campus affairs committee, made up of three students and a staff member, to present the purposes of the pro-life club. They cut her presentation short and told her she would hear back by the end of the day.
That day came and went. A week passed. Other prospective clubs that had presented that same day received answers, but Norvilia did not hear anything. So she reached out to the head of the Student Development Department, who said she would investigate. Then she finally got her answer: The Students for Life group was denied official status as a student group on campus. It wouldn’t even tell them why.
Still Norvilia persevered. She contacted the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, and on January 27, 2017, Queens College Students for Life received official recognition – the same day as the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
It would have been easy for Norvilia to stop there, but she understood that the policies that stood in her way were still in place, and that they could negatively affect other student groups in the future.
It is thanks to her dedication to both the pro-life cause and the Constitution that Queens College has now agreed to rewrite its policies, impacting nearly 20,000 other students. And it’s proof that the determination of one student can make a difference for so many others on campus, now and in the future.
Learn more about the work that the Center for Academic Freedom is doing to defend student rights on campus.
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