A majority student union problem

What does having a White Student Union really mean to a college campus?

Leah Lancaster

Matthew Heimbach, a student at Towson University in Maryland, has recently made headlines for wanting to start a White Student Union on campus. According to an interview in the student newspaper, The Towerlight, he wants to “essentially replicate what every student union does on campus.” He compares his motives to that of starting a Black Student Union; except he wants to promote white heroes and celebrate the contributions western civilization has brought to mankind. Additionally, he wants to create a safe space for students that have had anti-white language used against them on a campus that is “hostile toward white students” and brings attention to issues that aren’t discussed in classrooms that are “[controlled by a] left-wing majority.” Heimbach claims that he has 17 interested students who have been handing out fliers.

This is not the first time Heimbach has involved himself in a controversial student group. Last year, he was president of the campus chapter of Youth for Western Civilization, a national right-wing organization. It was disbanded after members scrawled “White Pride” all over campus and held demonstrations against Islam, same-sex marriage and multiculturalism. Heimbach also faced a backlash when pictures surfaced of him holding a confederate flag in front of Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Montgomery, Ala.

Heimbach is currently seeking approval from the Student Government Association, which would aid the group in getting funding and free access to university meeting rooms. L. Victor Collins, Towson’s assistant vice president of student affairs for diversity, believes Heimbach’s group should be treated like other student groups as long as it meets the requirements and follows school policies.

White Student Unions — or more aptly, White Pride or even White Supremacy groups — are nothing new. The question Heimbach ultimately raises is whether these groups should be able to exist on college campuses under the guise of the title “White Student Union,” or some other similar variation.

In this type of situation, universities find themselves between a rock and a hard place, as they are obligated to let any student start a group as long as certain requirements are met. Unconventional ideas should not be the reason a club is denied funding. If this were the case, LGBT groups, Black student groups, Muslim student groups and essentially any group representing a marginalized community wouldn’t be able to exist. The difference between these groups and a white student union is that ethnic minority or LGBT students start groups to network and gain resources to things that would otherwise be difficult to find in mainstream society. On many college campuses, a student of color might see a small handful of people that look like them in a day. This is not the case for white students. To learn about LGBT heroes, you go to a miniscule section in a library or bookstore; to learn about white heroes, you simply have to go to school — usually, the entire curriculum is based on them. Even here at the University of Minnesota, if you are an English major like myself, you are required to take an American and British Literature class. The rest are general “diversity requirements.”

As an adoptee that was raised by a white family, I do not hate white people, nor do I think they should be banned from starting student groups —  even ones focused primarily on the issues, activities and/or history of the white demographic. Yet, the reason these groups aren’t prevalent is because they simply are not needed. There is not a big enough community that needs to go out of the way to seek out “white culture” because it is inherently American culture.

Student groups, especially minority groups, are created so students can feel represented and share their culture with the rest of campus. Heimbach’s motives are clearly different. Towson University has a dominant Caucasian population and an active right-wing community. The reason Heimbach is not content with simply joining a student political group or debate team is because he has hatred towards people of color and the LGBT community and wants to propagate it on campus. It may be within his rights to start a white student union, but allowing it to happen is guaranteeing the eventual harassment of ethnic minorities and LGBT students. This would inevitably lead to feelings of unrest throughout campus and cause many students to feel unsafe — this, hopefully, is against any school’s policy.

In the ever-growing, diverse society that we live in, it is understandable that Heimbach himself, who openly dislikes multiculturalism and homosexuality, may feel unsafe — or more aptly, threatened — on campus. Towson is the second largest university in Maryland, which means Heimbach probably has to encounter LGBT people and ethnic minorities every day, some who may even question his views and acknowledge his privilege as a white man in history and in the present. This, however, does not equate to being unrepresented or harassed. It is Heimbach’s unwillingness to accept anyone that is different from him. Providing university funding for his white student union not only endangers students, it moves progress in this country more than a few steps backwards. This is the opposite of what universities should be supporting on their campuses.