On Thursday, Turning Point USA’s application for Registered Student Organization (RSO) status was denied in a 17-2 vote by Drake Student Senate.
The senate vote came after nearly one and a half hours of deliberation, with senators using a majority of the time to question the present Turning Point members.
Senators judge potential organizations on the criteria outlined in the Drake RSO handbook, including whether the organization aligns with the Drake mission statement, whether it poses a safety risk and more.
Many of the questions from senators centered around the Drake chapter’s relation to the national Turning Point organization, which has promoted false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and contributed funds to the rally that became the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, according to opensecrets.org.
“Even just scrolling through their website in the last week, you see articles posted on the national organization’s page discriminating against homeless people, citing anti-semitic dog whistles like the ‘new world order,’ misgendering or disrespecting the identity of trans people, making racist statements about prominent black figures, and there have also been instances in the past of members of the national organization making pretty blatant racist comments about black people,” said Madeline Leigh, senator for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Multiple senators voiced similar concerns regarding how the organization’s presence could impact students’ sense of belonging, and Jared Poortinga, president of the Turning Point chapter at Drake, provided similar responses each time.
“A lot of people that post or have something to do with the national organization, they do not represent us as a chapter,” Poortinga said. “We do operate independently, and we do in our constitution lay out if there is anything that is appalling that somebody says, that is racist, anti-semetic, or that goes against anybody’s religious beliefs or views, we have a process to remove them from the group, and we are very serious about that.”
Although Poortinga attempted to distance the Drake chapter from the national organization, it was discovered after the senate meeting that a member of the audience was Jordyn Landau, a senior field representative for the national Turning Point USA organization. Landau has been actively involved with the Drake chapter since at least December of 2019, according to posts on the chapter’s Facebook page.
Later in the meeting, Vice President of Student Life Connor Oetzmann shifted the focus to the organization’s constitution, which states that members exhibiting discriminatory behavior will be subject to removal.
“Mr. Poortinga, you have a podcast, and in one of them referenced that people identifying as gay can simply ‘get over it,’ and ‘everyone has challenges they need to deal with,’ completely undermining the feelings and emotions of those who are or have struggled with their sexuality,” Oetzmann said. “I guess I’m seeing an inconsistency between the constitution and what you say, obviously because that doesn’t create a safe or comfortable space for anybody in the LGBTQ+ community.”
On his podcast, “The Jared Poortinga Show,” Poortinga has propagated false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, called Black Lives Matter “morally reprehensible” and said that Drake COVID-19 policies were about the administration maintaining “power, control and money,” instead of safety.
“First, this chapter is independent from my own views and what I’ve done in the past according to my podcast,” Poortinga said. “Second, I will say that I have not made a podcast episode for a while. My podcast is no longer active, and a lot of the views and my own religious beliefs are specific to me and not to this chapter or organization, so they remain separate.”
Equity and Inclusion Senator Ruwayda Egal asked how Poortinga was allowed to remain a member of the organization despite their constitution calling for the removal of members making discriminatory statements. Poortinga again stated that his views are “separate from the chapter,” but he did not denounce his past statements or clarify as to why they had not been addressed in accordance with the organization’s constitution.
Before the final vote, senators shared their thoughts on whether the Turning Point chapter should be granted full RSO status. Many cited the statements of the chapter’s leadership or the connection to the national organization as their reason for voting no.
“To the notion that we’re silencing political beliefs, I would push back and say this is not me silencing political beliefs,” Oetzmann said. “My vote is no because of the student body, but as well as I’ve not seen the actions of the leadership and members of this organization follow through with the commitments of this organization’s constitution, and until that happens, I can’t vote yes.”