Turning Point USA has applied for full registered student organization (RSO) status at Drake, two years after the group was denied in 2019.
The 2019 decision was the subject of notable controversy and unrest on campus, with students opposed to Turning Point reportedly “hissing at their peers,” according to a late 2019 interview with then student body president Nick Johnston.
Current student body president Morgan Coleman said she hopes to foster a more respectful environment for the upcoming meeting and keep any “chaos” to a minimum.
“With the context of their previous bid for RSO status, there was a lot of tension across the campus community, so my goal is to limit that as much as possible within my purview of presiding over the meeting where they would present their case for getting full organizational status,” Coleman said.
Coleman was transparent about her thoughts regarding how student senate will conduct itself during the meeting, stating that she plans for it to be “by the book.”
“I’ve already communicated to the members of student senate in our elected assembly meetings that they are to act in a way that is adhering to not only the Drake statement of principles but also to the precedent that I’ve set as student body president,” Coleman said. “That means everybody being respectful of each other, so that means their fellow senators, but also to guests.”
In the meeting, student senate will vote on whether to grant full RSO status to Turning Point and any of the nine other organizations that have applied. Full RSO status allows organizations to participate in the fall and spring activity fairs, reserve space at the university, and request funding from the university, among other benefits.
Mikayla Simpson, Turning Point’s campus coordinator at Drake, stressed the importance of RSO status to Turning Point’s Drake chapter.
“Full RSO status would mean that we’re able to actually host events. It would be easier for us to have meetings. We’re not asking for any funding from the school, which is what a lot of organizations go for RSO status for,” Simpson said. “We just basically want the acknowledgement that we are allowed to be on campus permanently and that we are able to host events and we are able to bring speakers to campus.”
Turning Point USA was founded by Charlie Kirk in 2012 and promotes conservative ideals, such as free markets and limited government, on college campuses.
The national organization has been involved with multiple controversies over the years, with the most recent example being Kirk’s Oct. 8 claim that Democrats want to see “America completely obliterated,” and “the Constitution shredded,” during his radio show. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy organization known for its civil rights work and identification of hate groups, said in a 2018 article that despite Turning Point’s condemnation of racist groups, “the attraction between the [two] is largely mutual.”
Simpson, who maintains the relationship between the Drake chapter and the national organization, stated that the Drake chapter aims to make their activities more attuned to the Drake environment.
“Our main issue on campus that we would be interested in addressing is definitely free speech. That’s one of the primary focuses of our organization as a whole,” Simpson said. “We do have certain themes that our organization puts emphasis on, but on campus, primarily the First Amendment rights and free speech for everyone, whether we agree with them or not, is our primary focus.”
Following the denial of Turning Point’s 2019 RSO application, Turning Point’s Drake members and Drake College Republicans both released separate statements condemning the decision. The Drake College Republicans statement said that “Drake University is known for its hostility to conservative ideas, both on campus and across Iowa.”
Drake Comrades, the organization that protested against Turning Point during the 2019 meeting, posted a 25-message-long Twitter thread on Turning Point’s “history of racism & bigotry on college campuses” prior to the vote and celebrated the result afterwards on social media.
“Being recognized on Drake would be a huge step for our organization because we’ve been trying to get approved for about five years and we’ve gone against the student senate [two] times,” Simpson said. “We’ve had nothing but backlash from the school, and it just really shows how we as an organization are discriminated against.”
Coleman stated that all organizations seeking RSO status will be reviewed based on the criteria in the recently updated RSO handbook, which she said makes the process less opinion based when compared to previous years.
“The primary goal of our session, despite any other opinions, is to go according to the criteria that the RSO handbook lays out and to operate well within the meeting,” Coleman said. “Any rules that we apply to Turning Point will be the same for all other registered student organizations regarding how we vote and how we open up the Senate floor. Everybody is going to get the same exact format that the other organizations are going to get.”
The student senate meetings regarding organizations seeking RSO status will be Oct. 21 and Oct. 28, but it is currently undecided which organizations will be presenting on each date.
“I want to be incredibly clear to all guests that I personally won’t tolerate yelling, screaming anything of that nature, because that’s not the spirit of what I want student senate to look like,” Coleman said. “I’ve started every Senate meeting off with the same quote. ‘Talk to people the way you want to be talked to, treat people the way you want to be treated, and this is going to be a place of respect. At the bare minimum, that’s how I’m planning to run this meeting.”