Discriminatory Student Organizations Compete for $100k on NBC!
NBC is presently perpetuating an injustice in America’s living rooms. In addition to the cancellation of Friday Night Lights. On its show, “The Sing Off,” NBC is giving a platform (and a chance to win $100,000 and a recording contract) to several discriminatory student organizations – recognized student groups at public and private universities that exclude other students solely because of their gender. Blatant and unapologetic sex discrimination by student organizations is being glorified and rewarded in front of a national television audience while the victims of their discrimination are left voiceless. Or at least that’s how I imagine that administrators at UC Hastings and other universities that seek to apply nondiscrimination rules to exclude Christian student groups must see this show.
For those who’ve somehow missed this brainchild of Nick Lachey, this is the second season of The Sing Off, a competition among a cappella (all voices, no instruments) singing groups – many of which are also groups of college students formed as registered student organizations on their campuses. And while some of these groups are co-ed, many are all male or all female, explicitly excluding students of the other gender.
One of the groups still in the running this year is “On The Rocks,” a group from the University of Oregon that describes itself as “the University of Oregon’s premier all-male a cappella ensemble.” The University of Oregon is deservedly very proud of them. Even with their football team preparing for the BCS National Championship against Auburn (Roll Tide! Go Ducks!) the front page of the University’s website currently features On The Rocks.
Oregon also has a more recently formed all-female a cappella group, Divisi. But of course no matter how well they can sing, the members of Divisi would appear to be ineligible for membership in the nationally televised “On The Rocks.” This likely wouldn’t bother Divisi members however since they themselves began with at least one male member (their “beau tie”) but removed him and became an all female group after being inspired by UC Berkeley’s exclusively female “Overtones.”
The all male Whiffenpoofs of Yale University, the oldest collegiate a cappella group, were eliminated last night and Tufts University’s all male Beelzebubs were the runner up in season 1. Such groups are exceedingly common on campus. While the strength of a cappella campus culture is probably still on the East Coast, most universities today have all male and/or all female a cappella groups and some have mixed groups as well. My alma mater, the University of Virginia, has several such groups including the all male Virginia Gentlemen, the Hullabahoos, and the Academical Village People and the all female Sil’hooettes. These groups are not only popular with students, but the University itself will often have them sing for prospective students at recruiting events. UVA is also home to CHoosE, a co-ed Christian a cappella singing group that I helped co-found in 1995 and part of a now large community of Christian a cappella singing groups on campuses that seek to express their love of God through this medium. (CDs are on sale and make an excellent Christmas gift).
Of course none of this is morally wrong in any way and I am not aware of a single complaint being raised on a university campus that permitting these singing groups should not be permitted to “discriminate” on the basis of gender. To any rational person there is a substantial difference between a ten person chorus of male voices seeking another male member of their group to replace their graduating tenor and a whites only chess club. Yet a strict and inflexible reading of a typical nondiscrimination rule prohibiting gender discrimination would require universities to banish these groups – in many cases among the most noteworthy and popular groups on campus.
I don’t know of a single university that has taken this step, and of course virtually every university permits single sex greek organizations to exist on campus as recognized student groups. And the continued existence of these single sex student groups, exempted by policy or practice from the applicable nondiscrimination rules, provides a strong protection against an overreaching application of religion nondiscrimination rules to derecognize the Christian a cappella singing groups and other campus ministries.
But as universities consider whether they might attempt to take the approach of UC Hastings and prohibit every student group from excluding anyone from leadership or membership on the basis of any belief or any status without exception, they – and the student government leaders who sometimes myopically encourage such blanket policies – may want to consider the impact such a policy might have on their a cappella singing groups, men’s and women’s choirs, club sports teams and even greek organizations. As popular as it may be to punish a small Christian group on campus and label them as bigots, when the consequence of excluding them is to also banish the a cappella singing groups, club sports, and greek organizations the campus might sing another tune.