Williams Initiative for Israel “is now an RSO [Registered Student Organization] with the full rights, privileges and responsibilities that label entails.”
A pro-Israel student group at Williams College called ‘Williams Initiative for Israel’ or WIFI, has struggled to gain recognition on campus.
Until now. The student government at the Massachusetts school blocked WIFI, but the administration went around them in order to provide recognition for them.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) deserves a tremendous amount of credit for bringing this situation to light and for the outcome.
Earlier this week, FIRE reported on the situation:
Pro-Israel group denied recognition by Williams College student government, administration’s response falls short
The president of Williams College says she is “disappointed” that the student government refused to grant official club recognition to a student group based solely on its pro-Israel viewpoint. She’s expressed concerns about the group’s treatment — but more must be done.
Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called on President Maud Mandel to grant club status to the group and take steps to combat viewpoint discrimination.
“Student governments should encourage more students to speak and debate ideas rather than hamper their ability to do so,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Sarah McLaughlin, author of FIRE’s letter to Williams. “President Mandel must immediately remind the College Council and the entire campus community that viewpoint discrimination is wrong — especially at a campus committed to free expression.”
FIRE pointed out that the student government review of WIFI had problems:
The student newspaper noted several anomalies in the student government’s review process: members voted anonymously, speakers’ names were not included in the minutes, and the meeting was not livestreamed. What is known about this process is that members of the student government objected to the group’s pro-Israel views. The editorial board called on the student government to “reevaluate its bylaws, whose complexity and discretionary nature allow for them to be selectively applied.”
To recognize WIFI, the administration relied on a procedure outlined in the student handbook.
Sarah McLaughlin of FIRE reported:
After viewpoint-based denial, Williams Initiative for Israel finally receives recognition
On May 7, FIRE wrote that Williams College needed to do more to protect students’ free expression in light of the College Council’s April 23 vote to deny recognition to student group Williams Initiative for Israel because of its pro-Israel stance. We reiterated that call in a letter sent to the college yesterday, writing that “Williams may not delegate functions to a student government that uses that authority to violate the expressive rights Williams promises all students.”
Late yesterday afternoon, Williams Director of Media Relations Gregory Shook informed FIRE via email that, as of Tuesday, WIFI has received recognition as a registered student organization, or RSO. Shook wrote:
After the College Council’s vote, college administrators discussed the fact that the college’s Student Handbook described a parallel path to RSO status that had not been engaged in this case. This involved a committee made up of administrators and CC reps.
Under Massachusetts state law, a college’s student handbook is a binding contract between students and the institution. Therefore, we had a legal obligation to offer that process if WIFI requested it, which they did.
We notified College Council of the process described in the Handbook, and asked them to designate a representative for the committee.
On Tuesday, May 14, the committee considered WIFI’s request, as required by law, and voted to grant RSO status to WIFI. WIFI is now an RSO with the full rights, privileges and responsibilities that label entails.
Congratulations to WIFI on their new status at Williams and congratulations to FIRE for helping secure another victory for free speech on campus.
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