Groups opt for status quo over ASG change

Christina Salter

Before this summer, religious and political candidate student groups didn’t exist – at least as far as Associated Student Government was concerned.

ASG policy did not recognize these types of student groups before policy changes were made this summer in response to student group leaders’ requests, said executive vice president Vikram Karandikar. Although recognition is now possible, no religious groups – and only one political candidate group – have applied.

Religious student groups can now apply for R-status, which offers the same benefits as ASG’s existing B-status, Karandikar said.

B-status groups are eligible for a small portion of ASG’s funding pool, generated by the Student Activities Fee. A-status groups receive the vast majority of such funds. Through ASG recognition, groups can also book rooms in Norris, publicize their events and receive guidance.

Over the summer, University Chaplain Timothy Stevens and Helen Wood, associate director of the Center for Student Involvement, created the application for religious groups to be recognized by ASG. The university chaplain first has to recognize a religious group for a year, “to make sure we don’t get any crazy cults or whatever,” Karandikar said.

One of the requirements of religious group status is signing a statement of non-discrimination. Karandikar said that while there are incentives for groups to apply for recognition, requirements like this may lead some groups to choose to remain unrecognized.

“We’re not expecting a huge flood of religious groups,” he said.

Groups based on support for a certain political candidate can apply for P-status, a status that expires as soon as the election for the candidate occurs. Political groups such as College Democrats continue to be eligible for ASG recognition as long as they are not based on a specific candidate or election.

NU Students for McCain is the only group that has applied for P-status so far, although ASG has not advertised the new statuses anywhere on their Web site. Candidate-oriented groups do not receive a Student Organization Finance Office account like other groups and are not allowed to fundraise for their candidate. They are still allowed other group privileges, such as advertising and reserving rooms – a privilege they had previously been denied.

“It was really just about having a legitimate group that could operate on campus,” said Jonathan Green, leader of NU Students for McCain.

Sheil Catholic Center is still deciding whether or not to apply for R-status, said Sheil pastoral associate Mary Deeley. Students on Sheil’s steering council want the center to be more readily available to partner with other student groups in offering events, but still have some questions about the new status policy, she said.

“There is the feeling that it seemed like segregation,” Deeley said. “Why can’t there be religious groups simply on B-status?”

The push to allow recognition of religious groups started when Sheil originally applied for T-status in spring 2007 and then tried to apply for B-status in 2008, Deeley said.

“ASG didn’t know what to do with us,” she said.

Religious group recognition had been banned since 1992, but after Sheil’s request, ASG formed a committee in fall 2007 to reconsider the ban. In Spring Quarter 2008, the committee concluded the ban should be lifted, though a vote on the ban was postponed due to concerns raised by Chaplain Stevens. Stevens wanted to ensure that groups would still need chaplain recognition before ASG recognition.

R-status does not apply to groups that offer religious activities but apply for recognition as a cultural organization, such as Hillel or the Muslim-cultural Students Association, both of which are A-status groups.

Hillel generally requests funding for large-scale speakers such as Andy Samberg and Sarah Silverman, said Jessica Fain, Hillel’s leadership council treasurer. The group has also received funding for their annual Hanukkah party, Latkepalooza, as well as Schmooze magazine.

“Hillel doesn’t receive funding as a religious group but as a cultural institution and a unique institution,” the SESP senior said. “We never would have applied for money to buy a new Torah.”

Sheil also offers cultural activities such as service opportunities, speakers and hiking trips, but did not want to apply for recognition as a cultural group, said Julie Milligan, Sheil steering council chairwoman.

“It’s important to us to maintain that we are a religious group,” the Communication senior said. “Sheil does offer cultural programs; however, we’re primarily a religious group.”

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