Unidentified URI College Republicans and “White Heterosexual American Male” Scholarship Team Members (from URI CR site)
by Andy Blais
03/15/07 – The University of Rhode Island Student Senate denied the appeal of the College Republicans over a controversial scholarship at last night’s meeting.
The senate, along with College Republican Chairman Ryan Bilodeau, debated whether the “White Heterosexual American Male” scholarship violated the senate bylaws, which prohibit discrimination by any member group. However, the club never granted the scholarship to an applicant.
The Student Organization Advisory and Review Committee, chaired by Matt Yates, handed two punishments to the group. The first required the College Republicans to write a letter of apology to be printed in the Cigar.
The second requires the student group to have all of its activities approved by SOARC until February 2008.
The senate debated whether the scholarship, sponsored by the College Republicans, was protected by free speech or if it was in direct violation of the senate’s bylaws.
“Nowhere at that time was there any mention of it being political satire,” Yates said, referencing the first meeting his committee had with the College Republicans.
The senate also discussed the legality of false advertising and if the College Republicans had violated the law.
“The First Amendment does not in any way protect a group from committing fraud,” senator Jesse Whitsitt-Lynch said.
The senate also questioned the College Republicans if it had known it would never distribute the scholarship. Bilodeau said that the group knew from the beginning that it would not be handing out the scholarship.
Bilodeau agreed with the senate that he and his group were “ambiguous” in their advertisement, but stopped short of calling the advertisements a mistake.
He also didn’t agree with the letter of apology SOARC wanted the College Republicans to write. He claimed it was against the First Amendment, which grants free speech.
“We are sorry we are racist, bigot, homophobes, that’s basically what we’re asked to write forced speech is illegal,” Bilodeau told the senate.
In the end, however, the senate disagreed with Bilodeau. It voted by a two-thirds majority to uphold the punishment prescribed by SOARC.
The issue started in November during the University of Rhode Island College Republicans “Coming out Conservative” Week. During the week, it offered the WHAM scholarship to students willing to apply in the Memorial Union.
The College Republicans said the scholarship was meant to point out its disagreement with affirmative action.
On Nov. 29, the Cigar published a letter to the editor by Nicole Gunderson, who asked the senate to investigate the College Republicans. Gunderson accused the group of not following the student senate’s bylaws.
SOARC began hearings Feb. 5 that were held twice for both the committee and College Republicans to hear both sides and investigate the issue.
After SOARC made a decision on Feb. 19, the College Republicans appealed to the senate moderator, Vice President Rosie Mean, and was heard last night in front of the full senate.