CEDAR FALLS — A student is appealing to the University of Northern Iowa president after her request to register a pro-life organization on campus was denied.
Sophomore Sophia Schuster went through the process to register UNI Students for Life, an affiliate of a national anti-abortion group. The proposal was voted down by Northern Iowa Student Government on Oct. 7, a decision that was upheld a week later by the student judiciary when Schuster appealed.
“There’s one more appeal, and that will go to the president of UNI, President (Mark) Nook,” she said.
“I’m working on that right now,” Schuster added during a Friday interview. “I’m just going to send it and hope for the best at this point.”
Organizations that register are allowed access to funding through the student government budget as well as campus promotional opportunities, according to information on UNI’s website.
A story in the Northern Iowan newspaper noted that during the Oct. 7 meeting some student government leaders objected to beliefs of the national Students for Life organization detailed on its website. Others argued students and campus organizations they belong to have a right to opinions student leadership doesn’t agree with. The Courier left a voice message at the student government office Friday afternoon, but did not reach anyone for comment.
After a hearing Wednesday, UNI’s eight-member student judiciary issued a ruling supporting the outcome of the vote.
An opinion signed by five of the student justices was based on two policies. One said NISG would “register any student organization formed in good faith for a lawful purpose.” The other outlined “the specific forms of legally prohibited harassment” at the university.
The ruling cited an argument by some student legislators that the group’s constitution is “vague, allowing for open interpretation” and “therefore lacking in evidence of being an equitable, just, and welcoming student organization.” The opinion also said the group’s constitution and its ties to the national organization have “the potential to create a hostile environment on the University Campus.”
A dissent by three student justices took issue with those assertions.
“The majority opinion has predicted actions of the UNI Students for Life – sowing unrest on campus and depriving others of their rights – that go far beyond the logical scope of this case,” the dissenters wrote. On another point, it added, “UNI Students for Life has done nothing to justify the allegation of harassment.”
Schuster’s registration request met the requirements laid out by a committee she worked with before the student government vote. So, she was initially surprised by the direction the discussion took.
“But I was absolutely floored by the (student) supreme court’s decision after we appealed it,” said Schuster. “The charge I brought against the senate was that they rejected us not based on any policies, but that they rejected us on personal beliefs.”
Student government officials admitted in presenting their case to the judiciary that they violated university policies in voting against the group’s registration, according to information in the dissenting opinion.
Schuster said “I think it’s one of the biggest misconceptions” that people who are pro-life “want to oppress women. ... Our whole purpose is to tell women that they’re strong and we love them,” she explained, and that they can choose to have their baby.
A news release from Students for Life noted legal counsel has been contacted on behalf of the UNI organization.
Collection of photos from UNI’s UNIty march