Anti-Semitism at UCLA and the Anti-Christian University

Can a qualified student be barred from a student organization because she is Jewish? That is the awkward debate from UCLA that has attracted national attention recently. Here at ILYBYGTH, we have to ask a different awkward question: How is this debate different from the one about conservative evangelicals on campus? UCLA’s student leaders have apologized for the anti-Semitic slant of this incident, but many universities have intentionally de-recognized Christian organizations due to their Christian beliefs.

As the New York Times reported, Rachel Beyda’s confirmation hearing on February 10 turned into a painful debate about her Judaism and her affiliation with campus Jewish groups. Beyda is a sophomore pre-law student, hoping for a place on the student judicial council. At the February 10 meeting of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, her qualifications were questioned. One councilwoman asked Beyda,

Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community … given that recently … [inaudible] has been surrounding cases of conflict of interest, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view … [inaudible]?

Eventually, Beyda was voted in, but the agonizing back-and-forth about Judaism and bias has caused the university and the student group to apologize. They had not meant to imply that Jewish students have a special sort of bias; they did not mean to say that Jewish students have divided loyalties. Such ideas, they affirmed later, have a long and ugly history in American history.

As the New York Times points out, this sort of anti-Jewish attitude has become more common on college campuses, largely due to protest against Israel’s politics. The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement in support of Palestinian rights has attracted widespread support among college leftists. It has become increasingly difficult for students to separate their anti-Israel ideas from anti-Semitic ones.

As the New York Times’s Adam Nagourney writes, this incident

has set off an anguished discussion of how Jews are treated, particularly in comparison with other groups that are more typically viewed as victims of discrimination, such as African-Americans and gays and lesbians.

What about the anti-evangelical bias of many universities? As we’ve seen here at ILYBYGTH, evangelical groups such as Intervarsity Christian Fellowship have been de-recognized at many pluralist colleges, including the Cal State system.

First, a few caveats: I’m no evangelical myself. I’m not asking this question as an apologist for conservative Christianity. Indeed, I vehemently disagree with most conservative evangelical political and theological positions. Nor am I unaware of the fact that these are different situations. I understand that Intervarsity has been derecognized not because of its ethnic background, but because of its discriminatory beliefs. Intervarsity members are not barred from leadership in campus activities because they might have “divided loyalties,” to use the ugly rhetoric of the recent UCLA discussion. Rather, the group as a whole is pushed out because it does not allow non-evangelicals to take leadership positions in its own group.

Having said all that, I think the Intervarsity case is another prime example of the ways “discrimination” is often used in conflicting and short-sighted ways on today’s college campuses. The student council members at UCLA insisted that they did not mean to imply that Jewish people somehow could not be full members of the university community. In short, the student-council members suffered from an overzealous interpretation of discrimination. Some council members apparently believed that there was something “discriminatory” about being Jewish.

Similarly, Intervarsity has been de-recognized because its leadership policy is discriminatory. It really is. Only those who affirm Intervarsity’s statement of faith can be leaders. This rules out students engaged in active homosexual relationships, not to mention Jewish students, Muslims, Catholics, and even liberal Protestants.

The awkward result, of course, is that Intervarsity itself has been discriminated against. Can’t some student groups engage in some forms of discrimination? Isn’t it fair for a religious group to insist that its leaders be part of its religion? Yes, such policies are frankly discriminatory. But is all discrimination necessarily beyond the bounds of proper campus thinking?

Let me repeat: I do not think the two situations are identical. I’m no member or fan of conservative evangelical student groups. But it does seem as if the zeal to purge campuses of any group that might be “discriminatory” has led to weird and troubling sorts of discrimination. Like the confused student council members at UCLA, some zealous campus voices seem to overcompensate in their desire to purge discrimination.

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6 Comments

  1. Similarly, Intervarsity has been de-recognized because its leadership policy is discriminatory. It really is. Only those who affirm Intervarsity’s statement of faith can be leaders.

    I have mixed views about this. I see both sides of the argument.

    I wonder what would happen if the group had administrative leaders responsible to the campus and for reserving rooms for meetings, and other administrative tasks. And suppose that they had separate spiritual leaders, for which they could apply more restrictive rules.

    I’m not sure how the campus would view this.

    Reply
  2. Karen

     /  March 8, 2015

    I may be wrong, but I gathered the problem at least in the Cal State system was that student fees are a funding source for recognized groups. Having attended a Cal State school a few years ago, I noticed no lack of Christian literature amid the flood of stuff that gets posted around your average college campus. There was certainly no one in officialdom protesting the loud weekly Christian rallies held on the lawn outside the building where I took classes. (Really guys? 1:30 in the afternoon, right outside the classrooms, on warm days when we needed windows open?) But expecting students to fund a group that they can’t fully participate in is questionable.

    Reply
  3. Agellius

     /  March 9, 2015

    “But expecting students to fund a group that they can’t fully participate in is questionable.”

    I’m curious, are evangelical Christians allowed to hold leadership positions in the Atheist, Agnostic, & Non Religious Student Alliance, the Muslim Student Association, or the The Soka Gakkai International Engaged Buddhists Club on Cal State campuses?

    Reply
    • Yes. According to the LA Times, “Under the so-called all-comers policy, a Republican could conceivably run for and win election to lead the Democratic club; a white undergraduate could lead the Chinese Student Assn.; a non-musician could be selected to lead the classical guitar club.” (http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-calstate-clubs-20141024-story.html#page=1)

      It’s assumed this policy will work by leaving it to the organizations’ voting process to decide if the Buddhists want a Christian leader or vice versa. IVCF runs into trouble because it has a vague Protestant fundamentalist-ish restatement of the Christian ecumenical creeds that allows it to be broadly inclusive of different Christians, but the national leadership has tried to push down an interpretation of the “authority of scripture” clause to mean you have to believe the Bible means what they think it means on the issue du jour.

      Sexual morality and more specifically homosexuality are the typical flashpoints since there is such a generation gap on these categories among Evangelicals and Americans in general. it could be any issue, however. At Rollins College IVCF was booted after a it ejected a student leader in the local campus group because she didn’t agree that the Bible should be a key guide to personal decision making.

      Reply
      • I see there is some coverage of this issue that notes mainline Protestant and Muslim groups, such as Hillel, the largest Jewish student organization, have elected non-Jews to some posts. Hillel also has Muslim members in some cases and does not have a problem with them being leaders, if they wanted to be.

        This issue gets at a deep division in conservative versus liberal notions of identity and particularism versus pluralism. But there are also distinct institutional and historical differences. IVCF like many evangelical parachurch groups functions as a church with its own creeds and publishing house. If its culture were to become accommodating of “gay marriage” (or whatever) it would indeed change “the church” and “the faith” for Evangelicals in ways that are impossible if Hillel were to one day have a lot of non-Jewish leaders. That has to do with the unique nature of Judaism, but even Catholics are not going to be threatened by a leftward turn in Newman Centers the way Evangelicals and even some confessional Protestants would be by changes in a group like IVCF.

  4. It’s troubling that pre-law students at UCLA are so lacking in philosophical education if not common sense that they think “not being religious” means being ideologically neutral or somehow free from thinking and making decisions or interpretations in light of a culturally specific set of values.

    Reply

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