EMU Student Government changes mind on exhibit

Student Government originally denied funds for the Genocide Awareness Project, but reversed its decision this week.

In a roundabout way, Eastern Michigan University Student Government reversed its decision to not fund the Genocide Awareness Project, a traveling exhibit that compares abortion to genocide through graphic photos of genocide victims placed side-by-side with images of abused children and aborted babies.

Students for Life, a pro-life student organization at EMU, received permission from the university in November 2012 to have the GAP exhibit on campus April 11-12 outside of King Hall and the Marshall and Pray-Harrold buildings.

EMU Student Government denied Students for Life the $4,954 the organization requested to support the traveling exhibit, which prompted the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal ministry, to file a lawsuit March 19 against the university on behalf of Students for Life. The ADF lawsuit, Students for Life at Eastern Michigan University v. Parker, said EMU officials denied the student organization funding for mandatory student activity fees.

The university released a statement April 24 that said the lawsuit “prompted an internal review of the EMU Student Government’s procedures for funding student organizations. The decision was made to fund [Students for Life].”

Student Government Director of Communications Benjamin Elmgren said the transfer of funds from Student Government to Students for Life should not be viewed as a reversal.

“What we’ve done is made the decision to fund the organization rather than funding the event, and it’s something that is outside of our allocation process,” Elmgren said. “This is a decision that we came to as an executive board, and at this time, because there is pending litigation, we’re not actually able to comment with a great deal of specificity about the nature of that decision.”

The executive board of Student Government consists of 13 members, including the student body president and vice president.

“The transfer of funds is out of our discretionary line item,” Elmgren said. “And that is entirely at the purview of the executive and that power is invested only in the president.”

Outgoing Student Body President Matthew Norfleet said, “Student Government is purposed with amplifying the voice of students, and to that end, we aim to broaden the conversation at EMU rather than restricting it, even when the topic of that conversation may be perceived as controversial or contentious. At the end of the day, we have decided that the fairest course of action in this matter is to provide funding for this organization as a stop-gap measure, while we revisit our student organization funding procedures.”

Elmgren said the organization’s choice to settle the dispute reflects Student Government’s desire to facilitate a “viewpoint-neutral context” in which student organizations may request funding for their activities.

“This decision creates an opportunity for Student Government to improve our funding process while simultaneously saving EMU students, as well as Michigan taxpayers, hundreds of thousands of dollars that would otherwise be wasted on costly litigation,” Elmgren said.

EMU Executive Director of Media Relations Geoff Larcom said even with Students for Life receiving the requested funding the lawsuit has not been dropped at this point, and so would offer no further comment at this time.

“Discussions are ongoing,” he said.

Benjamin Harrington, director of business and finance for EMU Student Government, said the concerns raised by Students for Life regarding allocation processes prompted Student Government to consider alternative policies that are “clearly articulated and equitable for all students, regardless of viewpoint.”

Glenna Miller, EMU assistant vice president for Student Life and staff advisor to Student Government, said participation in Student Government presents a significant learning and professional development opportunity for our students.

“Part of the experience in assuming such key leadership roles is learning and growth in making a wide variety of new and sometimes complex decisions,” Miller said.


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