At Towson Univ., a Student Makes His Case for a White Student Union

Julianne Hing, Color Lines, September 19, 2012

Race has arrived on the front doorstep of Towson University, and it’s a package no one wants to open. This fall Matthew Heimbach, a student at the public university in the Baltimore suburbs proposed starting a white student union. His calls attracted immediate attention; with his cloudy but very emphatic views on race, he’s excellent at courting publicity for the 21,000-student university.

{snip} Heimbach is entirely sincere, and definitely not a liberal. He wants a student organization at Towson University for white students, a place of solidarity where white students can support and protect each other, and has thrown the school in high-profile turmoil for it.

And so Towson University finds itself in a difficult position—legally required to uphold a student’s free speech rights but with a sticky race problem on its hands—and, in the American way, both compelled and loathe to confront head-on the issue of race.

White Students Under Siege?

Heimbach, who prefers being associated with southern nationalists over white nationalists, said a photo of him holding a Confederate flag this summer in front of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. pastored in Montgomery, Alabama, ought not to be misconstrued. “[The Confederate flag] has never been a symbol of race,” Heimbach said. “Someone who has no connection to Dixie, no connection to the confederacy just doesn’t understand it.”

Heimbach’s got a history of stirring up controversy on campus, as well. Last year his fledgling group Youth for Western Civilization pasted posters around Towson with slogans reading “White Pride,” as a test, Heimbach said, of the campus’s tolerance. Youth for Western Civilization didn’t last a year before its requisite faculty advisor resigned from his post, and the group was summarily disbanded.

Heimbach decided to start a white student union at Towson this year, he said, because he’s witnessed Towson become home to “a culture of crime where primarily it’s non-whites doing it to white students and we perpetually have to live in a system of victimhood just because no one wants to sound racist.” And while Towson espouses values of tolerance, diversity and inclusion, Heimbach feels his political views have been met with fear and disdain. But chief among his reasons for wanting a dedicated space for white students is that black, Latino and Jewish students get their own organizations. If Towson believes in equality, Heimbach argues, why shouldn’t white students be allowed to have their own space?

“I personally believe this is a kind of false comparison,” said Victor Collins, Towson’s Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs for Diversity and the director of Towson’s Center for Student Diversity.

For one, Collins said, Towson is a predominantly white institution; 68 percent of Towson’s student body is white, while 13 percent of students are black (PDF). If they were students at an historically black college they might have a stronger case on their hands, Collins said. “However I do in fact totally support all our students’ rights to form an organization as long as those organizations comply with the rules and procedures we’ve established for all students.”

{snip} An online petition urging Towson University President Dr. Maravene Loeschke to denounce the formation of Towson’s white student union has garnered nearly 2,500 signatures toward their 3,000-person goal. The uproar prompted Loeschke to release a statement Tuesday, citing university policy which prohibits the formation of student organizations which discriminate on the basis of race. “At Towson University no recognized student group is permitted to discriminate against anyone,” Loeschke said.

{snip}

After the dissolution of his former student group and the widespread press Towson’s garnered, it’s been tough to find another faculty member willing to advise his new group. “Therein lies the big issue,” Heimbach said. He’s spoken with interested faculty members who’ve backed out because of pressure from administrators who are “trying to shut us out,” he said. “I guarantee if a black student was trying to organize a student group and couldn’t get an advisor, the NAACP would have filed a lawsuit already,” Heimbach said.

In the meantime, the university’s in a bit of a holding pattern. Heimbach can’t yet move forward with registering his student group and the only holdup, according to Heimbach, is the social taboo of being associated with a white student union. It’s a wait and see moment for everyone on campus. Less than a month into the school year, Hall has dealt with her share of heated feedback, even though the final decision is not hers to make. “I have been getting phone calls from people, some very angry parents, who want this student group to be on campus and say I’m a racist for not protecting these students,” said Hall, who is Towson’s first black female student body president.

Heimbach, encouraged by the response he’s received and undeterred by the administrative hoops standing in his way, is moving ahead with planning activities for his proposed White Student Union. His group’s first event is slated for October 2. Heimbach’s invited Jared Taylor, the noted white supremacist author, to speak on campus. He’ll discuss the changing meaning of white identity.

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