ORANGE - The ACLU of Southern California is asking administrators of Chapman University to restore the free speech and association rights of a group of students affiliated with the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity on their campus.
In February 2006, a group of about 18 students who wanted to start a chapter of the national Jewish fraternity at Chapman had their application turned down by campus officials. Determined to change administrators' minds, the group continued to wear fraternity T-shirts and recruit members. Instead of winning the administrators over, Chapman officials responded by ordering the group to immediately cease advertising and/or hosting fraternity-related events on campus, 'including having students meet on university premises for off-campus events.' They were also told to remove a page they had created on the college social-networking website Facebook.
California state law protects the free speech rights of students attending public and private colleges and universities. Chapman is a private university.
In a letter sent to Chapman administrators yesterday, Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County office of the ACLU of Southern California, defended the group, pointing out that no other student or association of students has been subjected to the severe restrictions imposed on the Sigma Alpha Mu members.
'The students affiliated with Sigma Alpha Mu retain their fundamental free speech rights while on the Chapman campus,' Villagra wrote. 'I ask that you provide immediate written confirmation that (1) the restrictions on the free speech rights of students from Sigma Alpha Mu '_ have been rescinded, and (2) the records of any violations of these restrictions have been expunged.'
The two-year battle to get a Sigma Alpha Mu chapter at Chapman was started by Pascal De Maria, now a senior at the university. 'All the group wanted to do was have a positive Jewish fraternal experience, that's all - like the recognized fraternities are able to enjoy,' De Maria said. 'We respect the university's decision to not have us on campus as a recognized fraternity but we would like to be able to have a table on campus like the other groups and advertise on campus.'
Dr. Barry Resnick, an alumni adviser with the national Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity who has been working on behalf of the Chapman students, said, 'I have repeatedly brought this matter to the attention of the university's chancellor, president and chairman of board of trustees and they elected to do nothing to lift or modify the restrictions on the students' rights.'
Pascal's mother, Barbara De Maria, expressed concern that the college experiences of her son and the other members of the group have been undermined. 'The boys were humiliated and made outcasts,' she said. 'The university instructed the members of the recognized fraternities and sororities to report them for wearing their letters or congregating on campus. As a parent I was appalled at the lack of accountability within the administration.'