Bill sitting on Gov. McDonnell’s desk to affect student organizations

Thursday, February 28, 2013

To read the follow up piece on this legislation, featuring an exclusive interview with the senator who sponsored the bill, click here.

To read about my frustration with writing the follow up piece to this story, click here. -This one is probably more dramatic and entertaining than the actual article.


Policy changes are currently underway in the Virginia General Assembly that will affect every student organization in Virginia’s public universities.

The bill, known as SB 1074, allows religious and politically centered student organizations to determine membership based on whether an individual’s political and religious beliefs align with those of the organization.

The Senate of Virginia passed the legislation on Feb. 5 with 22 votes in favor and 18 against.

“I interpret it as only applying to religious and political organizations in the language, but it can be taken in many different directions and probably manipulated just like any law can,” said sophomore Kylie Gilbert, finance and accounting major and president of Residence Hall federation. “Once you open that door for discrimination against people based on their beliefs, then that could get out of control,”

The bill, pertaining to public institutions of higher education, also prohibits those institutions from discriminating against organizations that implement these policies.

“With certain organizations — unless that organization is infringing on certain policies of the school — the college probably shouldn’t be able to tell them what they can or cannot do in a sense of who they allow in depending on their own rules,” said sophomore Jaxon Taylor, biology pre-med major.

The sponsor of the bill, Republican state Senator Mark Obenshain, is an alumnus of Virginia Tech and is married to a member of the Tech Board of Visitors, where she serves as committee chair of the Academic Affairs Committee.

In the Virginia House of Delegates, legislation HB 1617, identical to SB 1074, was passed by a vote of 73 to 27 on Feb. 18 and was signed by the Speaker of the House, Republican William J. Howell, on Feb. 21.

One of the main points of controversy surrounding the bill is its potential to restrict members of the LGBT community from participation in certain religious organizations.

On Thursday, the Commission of Student Affairs discussed the legislation in reference to its relevance to the Tech community and possible action to take against it.

“I believe that it violates Virginia Tech’s principles of community and the aspirations for student learning because curiosity means being able to learn from a bunch of different perspectives and that’s why we have student organizations,” Gilbert said.

According to Nick Onopa, junior public and urban affairs major serving as undergraduate representative for the Board of Visitors, a letter is currently being drafted on behalf of all student organizations in Virginia asking the Governor to veto the bill.

If the bill gets passed, there has already been discussion in the budget board of cutting funding to any organization at Tech that implements such discrimination protected by the bill in their policies.

Patty Perillo, vice president for student affairs, expects this movement to receive national attention.

“This is a moment in time where CSA and students’ power is really taking hold,” Perillo said. “I’ve been struck at times where students don’t have the sense of their agency and their power, you as students have incredible power to make changes at this institution and state-wide.”


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