Turning Point USA (TPUSA) has been officially recognized as an organization on campus, according to the group’s Instagram on Nov. 29, despite the Stony Brook Progressive Coalition’s online petition to bar the chapter from being recognized by the University out of concern for the group’s motives and ideologies.
The petition began circulating around campus on Discord in late September, now signed by 573 students and supported by nine different Stony Brook University (SBU) student organizations, including the Young Democratic Socialists of Stony Brook University (YDSSBU), Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) and Graduate Student Employment Union (GSEU), according to the signature and endorsement list.
Controversy over the club’s presence on campus comes after the group’s protest against vaccine mandates on Sept. 12. Both the New York Young Republican Club and Long Island Loud Majority joined in support and were met with counter-protests from the Stony Brook College Democrats and YDSSBU.
“The initial goal was to show administration how many students are concerned about this and prevent the Turning Point chapter from getting recognition,” Katherine Houston, treasurer of the LGBTA and a senior biology and psychology major, said. “Unfortunately, that was not successful and will not be possible to prevent them from being recognized, so the current goal of the petition is to spread awareness to students who may not be aware of the parent organization or the other groups Turning Point is associated with.”
TPUSA announced on Instagram on Nov. 29 that the club has officially been approved and recognized by the University as an organization on campus.
“There’s nothing wrong about this club, it’s about free speech,” Daniella Rodriguez, secretary of TPUSA and sophomore journalism major, said. “We’re nonpartisan, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be recognized by the University.”
Although legally the organization is nonpartisan, TPUSA does hold conservative values. The petition asserted that this was concurrent with the Stony Brook College Republicans and closely resembled their Statement of Purpose, by which Student Engagement and Activities guidelines would allow the University to deny TPUSA recognition.
“Turning Point USA has recognized chapters at secondary schools and colleges and universities across the country. We understand the concerns expressed, however, as a public institution of higher education, we must grant all proposed organizations who meet our University requirements for recognition equal access and viewpoint neutrality. We cannot deny recognition on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of speech/viewpoints of the organization,” Stony Brook University officials said.
Umair Sheikh, a freshman computer science major and member of the TPUSA chapter, described the petition as a “disgusting attack on our free speech,” convinced that the student body’s conception of TPUSA on campus is misconstrued and poorly represented. “I read the [Statesman] article; it’s all about how Turning Point is an anti-vaccine group when that’s not true; it’s the mandate.”
The Statesman article described the protest and individuals involved as “community members” and “anti-vax mandate protestors” protesting mandatory vaccinations for students.
Endorsers of the petition are especially concerned with TPUSA’s association with bigotry and violence, citing an article from The New Yorker detailing racial bias allegations several times. Rodriguez denies the accusations, pointing to the SBU chapter’s current ethnic diversity. She added that she did not mean having minority-identifying members absolves them of racism, “but clearly we’re not.”
SBU’s Turning Point chapter has not been reported for any discriminatory or violent actions, but for many students, the affiliation with and operation under the parent organization is enough cause to be wary.
“You can’t be certain that they won’t do the same thing as other groups,” Shweta Karmakar, president of YDSSBU and a junior coastal environmental studies and philosophy major, said.
“That association is very concerning, even if the chapter on campus has not done anything violent yet,” agreed Houston.
Karmakar and Houston expressed particular worry for transgender students on campus, as Karmakar recalled a time TPUSA was polling if biological men should play in women’s sports.
“We have transgender students on campus, and if they see that then they’re going to feel alienated. We’ve had students come up to us and tell us that they feel unwelcome on campus,” she said.
Rodriguez asserts that TPUSA “takes care of certain cases where there have been racist or homophobic individuals and they’ve removed them from the organization immediately.”
TPUSA’s website includes a page on transgender issues, where contributors such as Alex Clark, host of the conservative pop culture show “POPlitics,” have written statements such as “Putting on men’s clothing or injecting yourself with crap to grow a beard still means you’re a woman because you were born that way. What this is is virtue vomit. It’s anti-woman, anti-feminist, and anti-science GARBAGE.”
Karmakar and Houston’s concerns extend beyond the relationship of the group with minorities on campus. “Bigotry aside, they present a threat to professors here on campus, with their watchlist of left wing professors that can lead to harassment,” Karmakar said. The Professor Watchlist allows students to report college professors who are thought to be discriminating against students with conservative views and pushing leftist agendas. “I’m disappointed in any professor that agreed to be a faculty advisor to this club. I wouldn’t want to see my fellow professors getting harassed because of this.”
According to its website, the Professor Watchlist’s mission statement is “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Schools can be searched by name and will show names and photos of professors that have been reported by students.
The website also features a link to China on Campus, which encourages students to report “communist China” and “Confucius institutes” on U.S. college campuses. Many SUNY schools, including Stony Brook, are reported on the site and the university presidents’ emails are directly linked so students can do their part and “Ask your president why they let communist China on campus.”
In terms of SBU’s TPUSA chapter, Houston admitted that she is unsure of their goals and plans as an official organization on campus. While this concerns her, Rodriguez assured that the group simply wants to have educational discussions on campus and plan service projects, such as writing letters to veterans like the group recently did.
The dispute over the club’s presence on campus does not go unnoticed, and the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) encourages that students reach out with any future concerns.
“If they are creating some kind of hostile environment, if they are violating the policies, then we can definitely look into seeing what we can possibly do,” Sowad Ocean Karim, the vice president of communications for USG, said, assuring they will “see what can be done to make sure that we ensure the safety of students on campus.”