‘There is a real climate of fear now’: Alex Kemp
NOTRE DAME UNIVERSITY has refused students permission to form a group on campus because of their support for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.
The ban for the Socialist Alternative group follows the Fremantle-based Catholic university banning Socialist Alliance for being too left-wing (Herald, April 20, 2013).
Socialist Alternative member Alex Kemp says he was called into the student administration office and told his application would be denied because of his group’s support for an equal marriage rally at Stirling Gardens in Perth on May 11.
In an April 18 letter from NDA pro-vice-chancellor Mark Tannock confirming the refusal, no mention is made of the group’s support for equal marriage.
“I was told it was because of our unequivocal support for same-sex marriage and that same-sex marriage rallies on campus or anything promoting same-sex marriage wouldn’t be allowed,” Mr Kemp told the Herald.
“I think it’s pretty unfair and is an attack on freedom of speech. I understand it’s a Catholic university, but I think the key word here is university—you would think at a university it would be your democratic right to express yourself?”
A member of the NDA Labor club, who didn’t want to be named, says university censors also banned any mention of same-sex marriage in the club’s 2011 newsletter to students.
“I understand it’s a Catholic university and it wants to protect its image, but it’s pretty frustrating the uni doesn’t want any politics on campus,” he says.
Mr Kemp says hundreds of NDA students have signed an online petition at http://www.change.org demanding the university respect rights to freedom of speech.
But some are worried about reprisals, he says. “There is a real climate of fear now,” Mr Kemp says. “Some students felt convinced there would be disciplinary action for signing the petition. I don’t think it will really happen.”
Vice-chancellor Celia Hammond issued NDA’s 5000-odd students an email Friday April 19—the day last week’s Herald came out—about the university’s policy.
“The university recognizes that there are cases where formal affiliation is not appropriate but that the issues and/or ideas put forward by an external club, group or organization are important and should be discussed and/ or debated at the university,” he says.
“Many university staff and students work tirelessly to ensure that there are opportunities for these debates and discussions to occur.”
The university denies its refusal to allow clubs to formally affiliate with the university is the same as “banning” them.
This statement, to be attributed to “the University” was provided by media officer Leigh Dawson: “There are times when a judgment is made by the University that a particular club, organsation or group should not be formally affiliated with the University because to do so would be inconsistent with and/or compromise the University’s Catholic identity and mission.”
The university says it did not “deny affiliation or deregister the Medical Students Association” as a Facebook poster had claimed in last week’s story. “Nor does the University seek to prevent any debate or discussion on any topic relevent to the curriculum of any course.”
by BRENDAN FOSTER