The University of Florida has reportedly suspended three conservative student organizations for allegedly violating’s the school’s COVID-19 policies.
University of Florida Dean of Students Heather White told the school’s Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Freedom, and Network of Enlightened Women chapters that they “were observed not complying with” the school’s regulations and were thus indefinitely suspended “pending resolution of the allegations,” according to Campus Reform.
In a letter obtained by Campus Reform, White alleged that the Turning Point chapter had violated university policy by hosting an unsanctioned and unregistered event on “Norman Field,” an outdoor public field located on the university’s campus. White also stated that some chapter members were observed not wearing “appropriate face coverings” or maintaining “appropriate physical distance.”
The suspension means that, according to the letter, the groups will lose “all privileges and access to all campus resources and services, for a period of time, including, but not limited to, the use of University space, participation in University programs, activities, events and services, and registration of gatherings and events.” (RELATED: Campus Republican Club Suspended Over 9/11 Memorial Poster)
The secretary of the University of Florida Turning Point chapter, Abigail Streetman, told Campus Reform that “The event in question took place outside in a big open field with people wearing masks. Given such circumstances, the university’s decision to suspend all of the clubs seems extreme.”
Streetman added that “the state of Florida does not have a mask mandate in place,” and that “there is also broad legislative protection for the first amendment and peaceably gathering, especially on public property.”
The chapter president, Carter Mermer, appealed the dean’s decision to the vice president of student affairs, Kim Pace, stating that the club “explicitly said masks were required” and quoted Florida law as saying, “A person who wishes to engage in an expressive activity in outdoor areas of campus may do so freely, spontaneously, and contemporaneously.” Mermer also mentioned that not “one person from [their] event or previous events” was infected with COVID-19.
Pace decided to “uphold the decision” of the dean of students, as the Turning Point chapter’s behavior threatened “the health and safety of members of the university community.”
When asked by The Daily Caller if their club’s actions had endangered the campus community, Mermer and Club Treasurer Raquel Morales stated, “absolutely not.”
Both commented on the fact that “most people [at the event] were wearing masks and took them off” only to eat. Mermer, who made clear that he doesn’t wish to discount those who have died from COVID-19, stated that scientific findings support the idea that the risk of infection is “minimized substantially” when events are held outdoors and reiterated the fact that they have not had a single club member get infected from a chapter event.
Morales and Mermer expressed their frustration that they “haven’t been provided any evidence” by the university to corroborate the claims made against their club, and that their chapter’s suspension is seemingly based purely upon unsubstantiated allegations.
Morales told the Caller that numerous other organizations including sororities regularly use the field in a similar fashion as Turning Point yet don’t face any repercussions. Mermer similarly noted that he doesn’t “know of” any other clubs that have been suspended.
Morales stated that “it feels like we’re being targeted” and mentioned that “this isn’t something that just happened once,” alleging that the university often holds conservative student organizations to stricter standards than other student groups.
When asked about the atmosphere on campus, Morales stated that there “definitely is an anti-conservative sentiment.” She mentioned that due to this bias, many club “members don’t want to associate with us” and are fearful of being seen participating in chapter activities. Morales also also noted this is not just an issue at the University of Florida, but “is happening across the country.” (RELATED: Student Government Activists Demand College Republicans Be Deplatformed Over ‘Stop The Steal’ Rally Attendance)
Mermer told The Daily Caller that due to the university’s suspension of every major conservative organization on campus “thousands of students” are left without a place where they “can feel heard.”
Morales said that she thinks that the university is violating students’ free speech rights and argued that the event, which was held at a public field, is protected under the First Amendment. She also noted that she doesn’t only want to protect the right of conservatives to peaceably assemble, but believes in “fighting for liberals” to be able to exercise their first amendment rights as well.
Both Morales and Mermer emphasized that they were going to continue to attempt to work with university administrators and to “hold meetings off campus” and promote the goals of “conservatism” as best they can.
Mermer expressed gratitude to those who have voiced support for his chapter, including their club sponsor Frank Orlando and U.S. Representatives Madison Cawthorn and Katherine Cammack.