The University of Northern Iowa Student Government made national news last week when it refused to recognize a Students for Life group.
The goal of the group is to save lives from induced abortion, euthanasia and the destruction of human embryos. Eight students had expressed interest in forming the group.
An hour-long discussion resulted in some chilling words from members of the NISG, with one member calling the proposed Students for Life group a “hate group.”
Member Esha Jayswal opened the debate by reminding the group student organizations are approved based on whether or not they meet the requirements of their constitution.
“They have met all the requirements,” she said.
She added that organizations cannot be denied because someone opposes or supports their mission.
But that didn’t matter to many of the members of student government. The group was rejected on an 11-3 vote, with nine others abstaining.
Mohammed Rawwas started the attacks on the Students for Life group.
“First of all, I want to dispel this notion that the issue is like, the issue here is like political or partisan in nature,” he said.
Rawwas claimed that allowing the group would “cause harm” to students. He launched into a diatribe about the president of the Students for Life organization being on record as opposing killing an unborn baby in the case of rape or incest.
In a completely hypocritical moment that seemingly went unnoticed, Rawwas said this:
“I think we might be able to agree that there are things that sort of transcend politics – things that we can kind of like universally come to some sort of consensus – these are like heinous things. I don’t think…like if I said genocide is wrong that people would find that to be particularly political or like partisan or like a biased statement,” he said. “Obviously it is political in a sense that everything is political. But I think people are sort of able to understand that this is sort of like some universal declaration that goes beyond like mere opinion. That seems troubling at first glance.”
He then took exception to the organization’s website saying when Roe and Doe are overturned, Students for Life will be the only entity with trained and experienced armies of ground troops ready to engage.
“I don’t know if that language really reflects the sort of organizations that we want to have on campus,” he said. “Purely outside of any realm of like political bias, I just think this is like incredibly heinous and I don’t know why we would be in favor of registering this organization.”
Randy Everding said if the bill is passed, it would enable the organization access to student funds and advertising that “the majority of students, or at the very least the majority of my constituents would not approve their tuition dollars going to.”
“This is not about belief or opinion,” Everding said. “We are representatives first and foremost of the people who elected us or who we are supposed to be representing. And I know for a fact that the majority of people in my constituency would not appreciate this organization having access to their tuition dollars.”
Everding claimed it isn’t about what he thinks, but the people he represents and what they pay for.
“Truly, I just cannot move forward on supporting a bill when I know that there are people in my corner that would not support this bill either,” he said.
Caleb Stekl, who admitted to being a member of Democratic Socialists of America, took exception with what he called a racist billboard from the group.
“It reads, ‘President Trump, Planned Parenthood aborts 360 blacks every day. Help us. Blackprebornlivesmatter.com,’” Stekl said. “We can try to be apolitical and without opinion as much as we want, but there is a serious difference between political positions and disagreements and the university’s stated ethos towards diversity and inclusion. When we have an organization that is using blatantly racist advertising, just instrumentalizing black lives to push an anti-abortion or anti-pro choice narrative, that is at serious odds with the university’s stated mission.”
Stekl then said he doesn’t think any member can say they’d approve any organization as long as their constitution fit with the guidelines. He then compared the Students for Life group to the KKK.
He added that it is “absolute hogwash” that the group should be approved simply because it meets the requirements.
“This is an essentially far-right organization that’s trying to come onto campus and use our resources – resources that are produced universally to support a very fringe position – I’m sorry but over 50 percent of Republicans support at least some abortions in cases of rape and incest,” Stekl said. “What kind of a university image and ethos are we projecting when we are going to approve an organization that is not merely some sort of religious organization that is principled about its opposition to abortion, things like that. This is a group that wants to push a message, that wants to push a very politically divisive and hurtful and hateful message. I don’t think it’s within our vested duties as elected representatives to just allow anyone and any organization on campus that wants to so long as they fit within our constitutional guidelines.
“This is an absolute disgrace to student funds, to the institution of student government. We are elected to represent the people that vote us in. And I know for a fact, and I would have a hard time substantiating this, but I don’t think that the majority of our constituents, the vast majority, the supermajority of our constituents would ever think that this is a good idea.”
Rawwas spoke once again, thanking previous speakers for doing a great job of defining the “slippery slope fallacy” for them in case they needed a brush-up on their logic.
“The first thing is I almost fail to see the way in which this is about our political opinions on the matter,” he said.
He then talked about the university having a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion – again ignoring the obvious hypocrisy in his position.
Triet Ngo then said just because something is legal or constitution does not mean it’s right.
“You know what used to be legal? Segregation. Uh, homophobia. Things like that,” he said. “So again, just because it fits our guidelines doesn’t mean we should allow it to be part of our campus.”
In an incredible statement, Ngo said:
“For me, we are veering dangerously close to false equivalency as in we assume that all opinions are or, all opinions deserve sort of equal footing. Like so, uh, from what I can see, uh, of this organization, they are of the opinions that like, say, let’s see, so, yeah, they have the opinion that abortion is bad. Um, which is an opinion that has result- that can result in catastrophic consequences for productive rights I would say. Um, so, I mean we, hmm, sorry I’m not really prepared for this, this is a purely emotional response, but yeah, I would argue that not all opinions are equal. There are opinions and there are opinions that get people killed in many cases. And in that case, there’s really no middle ground here.”
Max Tensen kept his comments brief, but offered some doozies as well.
“This is a hate group,” he said. “This is hate speech. This is hateful rhetoric that is infringing on basic human rights of health care. We cannot support diversity and be complicit in its destruction at the same time.”
It was a short speech from Tensen, but it continued to raise eyebrows.
“Like, free speech is only going so far when this group is organizing and they’re applying for funds through NSIG,” he said. “Like, yeah sure as individuals, as students at UNI, they have free speech. But when they’re organizing and applying for funds, they need to meet some new criteria and I don’t want my funds, nor do my constituents want their funds going toward ‘mobilizing an army.’ What the heck is that? Mobilizing an army of hateful advocates. So, that’s really all I had to say. I’m sorry that was emotionally charged, but I am 100 percent not in support of this bill.”
Everding spoke again, taking offense to an earlier comparison of the Students for Life group to a socialist group.
“How is that a fair comparison at all when this group uses clear militant language,” he said. “Do we show love and acceptance by aiding the oppressed or do we allow ourselves to speak in a language of the oppressor? I think this is an important question that we all have to answer. This is something that transcends politics. This is human rights.”
Stekl spoke once more and took exception to the concern of potential lawsuits.
“Well, I’m sorry, but no student is ever going to be sued for our role here today,” he said. “That’s the administration’s problem. That’s the university’s problem. And if we’re not willing to defend women in court, what the hell are we doing here?”
He talked about gaslighting and Students for Life being “far-right” and “completely out of the mainstream acceptability.” Stekl then said concern about a lawsuit is a “weak” defense that puts money over students’ well-being.
“This is not just another conservative student organization,” he said. “There are groups that are against abortion that go far and above what this group does to actually provide health care to women, that provide alternatives, that really push adoption and provide those services – and I don’t agree with that whatsoever, but that is a much more respectable line to take towards this question than just criminalizing women.”
Stekl went on to say that the national organization is completely disqualifying. He added the group is directly opposed to UNI’s mission to provide a diverse and inclusive campus and “smacks of hypocrisy.”
“Anyone who would vote for this and still claim the liberal or progressive label – I think that’s just atrocious,” he said.
Salima Diallo compared the group to a white supremacist group. What she said after that, though, was very revealing.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want a group on campus that’s gonna like, just an example, if I’m pregnant they’re going to try to force me not to abort my child,” she said. “That’s not their choice.”
She later added the group would “suppress people” and that it is the right only of the person who “has the baby” to decide whether they want to “have a baby” or not.
To be fair, there were a few people who did caution the group about refusing Students for Life.
However, when it was all said and done, just three out of 23 people voted to pass the bill.
According to UNI’s student organization directory, here are some of the groups listed under “politics and activism:”
50/50 in 2020 – a group to assist in the recruitment, training and mentoring of women to run for political office.
Citizens Climate Lobby at UNI – promote carbon fee and dividend solutions to climate change.
Feminists – promotes gender equality and awareness of gender and sex-related issues on campus.
Panthers for Pete – gather students together who support Pete Buttigieg for president.
Proud – promote an inclusive and accepting campus environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and ally students at UNI.
Refugee & Immigrant Support and Empowerment
Sunrise Movement – stop the climate crisis and create millions of jobs in the process.
Turning Point USA
UNI for Warren
UNI for Bernie
Young Democratic Socialists of America