Student Government: Terms Like ‘Brotherhood’ or ‘Group of Women’ Are ‘Textual Discrimination’

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By Jillian Kay Melchior | 8:27 am, May 22, 2017

Several University of Rochester students have complained that fraternities and sororities, a capella groups and other gender-specific campus clubs are engaging in offensive “textual discrimination” by using terms like “men of principle,” “brotherhood” and “group of women” in their promotional materials.

And now the judicial branch of the Students’ Associated Government has agreed with the petitioners in a ruling, published earlier this month. Similarly to Harvard, the university is already seeking to limit single-gender organizations– but the recent student government ruling also goes a step further, penalizing any group found to have used gendered language in its name, constitution or promotional materials. More than 50 groups could be affected.

“Even if an organization’s practices are not discriminatory based on gender, presence of gendered language in a constitution amounts to de facto discrimination in that it promotes a chilling effect on the number of students seeking membership in that group,” the ruling said.

The ruling also took issue with campus organizations whose names included a reference to gender, including the “Here Comes Treble All-Male A Capella” group and “Women’s Curling”—even in cases where the group has no gender restrictions.

“A name, even more than a constitution, may unintentionally turn away potential members with gendered language,” the student government’s judicial branch said.

In a post Friday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education denounced the ruling as a serious threat to free speech on campus.

“It goes without saying that mandating certain language not be used under fear of penalty severely restricts the expressive rights of students at the University of Rochester,” the FIRE post said. “Effectively, the All-Campus Judicial Council took it upon itself to impose a new speech code on the entire campus — or, at least, on any student wishing to participate in the student organizations that are such a fixture of campus life.”

In a separate initiative focused on gender inclusivity, the University of Rochester’s student government also recently began offering free menstrual products in on-campus bathrooms, regardless of gender.

In two weeks alone, it spent almost $5,000 and burned through nearly 16,000 tampons and pads—in part because pranksters were stealing baskets of menstrual products in bulk from men’s bathrooms, the student newspaper reported last month.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.