CU Tells Students They Can't Start NAACP Chapter
Officials Cite Stand on Abortion, Overlap With Campus Groups
By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2004; Page B01
Catholic University has blocked students from starting an NAACP chapter on campus, saying it would "cause redundancy" with existing campus groups and expressing concern about the civil rights organization's advocacy of abortion rights.
William Jawando, a senior who will enter the university's law school in the fall, said he spent months trying to get an NAACP chapter approved. School administrators kept raising various concerns, he said, and in April, they told him that allowing the NAACP on campus would not be consistent with the mission of the university or the Roman Catholic Church.
"We wanted to do voter registration and raise awareness about the November elections, not start a chapter of Planned Parenthood," Jawando, 21, a District native, said this week. "I told them we would not talk about anything pro-choice, but it didn't matter."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded 95 years ago, is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. It has chapters at about 150 colleges, including Georgetown University and other Catholic schools, according to an NAACP spokesman.
Victor Nakas, Catholic University's director of public affairs, said the primary reason the school denied Jawando's request was that the university has two organizations that represent African American students. Blacks accounted for 386 of the university's 5,740 undergraduate and graduate students last fall.
"We have BOSACUA, the Black Organization of Students at Catholic University of America, and we have Minority Voices, an umbrella group for minority organizations, and an NAACP chapter would cause redundancy and overlap," Nakas said yesterday.
"The university's focus is on strengthening student organizations that are already in place and on building a sense of community through them."
The NAACP's abortion rights advocacy "was a factor in the considerations," Nakas said. "It's a factor we don't neglect because we steadfastly uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and would apply that rule to any student group."
Nakas also said that Jawando did not give a compelling reason for starting an NAACP chapter. He said school officials are willing to meet in the fall with students still interested in the issue "to see how we can best meet their needs."
Jawando began trying to get an NAACP chapter last fall, finding black and white students who supported the idea and recruiting a faculty adviser. He said that 30 students paid $10 each to join the national NAACP in preparation for applying for a campus chapter, and that the NAACP gave them the go-ahead to move forward in February. He said the two existing groups that serve black students supported his efforts and that some of their members were among those who signed up for the national NAACP.
"It's kind of disrespectful to say it's redundant," he said yesterday. "Why can't we have three groups?"
After months of negotiations, Jawando said, he received an e-mail denial in April from the school, which said an NAACP chapter would create competition among other minority groups and fragment the school's small minority population. He said he was appealing the decision when he was told by a school official that the NAACP's Web site endorsed the April 25 "March for Women's Lives" abortion rights demonstration in Washington.
School administrators, Jawando said, "seemed almost happy to find that last reason. It gave them a better excuse."
Last year, Catholic University's bookstore canceled an appearance by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) because of her advocacy of abortion rights.
Dean Hoge, a sociology professor who agreed to be faculty adviser for the NAACP chapter, said that the process of getting the group recognized was "a sensitive topic" on campus.
"I was never convinced we got the real reason for the denial," said Hoge, who heads the university's Life Cycle Institute. "I asked for the reason in writing, but I never got it. I still think they owe it to us."
Georgetown University has had an NAACP chapter since the early 1970s, the school said in a statement. An official said the Georgetown chapter's constitution does not advocate an agenda that is "contrary to Catholic Church teaching."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company