Trinity College student leaders rejected a request by the Churchill Club for recognition as a campus organization Monday, responding to a flurry of student complaints about the group.

The Student Government Association announced its decision in an email to students and faculty at the liberal arts school in Hartford, where there have been mounting political and racial tensions.

The club had been seeking to become the first campus chapter of the Churchill Institute, a controversial 3-year-old organization based in Hartford and led by Trinity political science professor Gregory B. Smith, who has been criticized for referring to on-campus cultural houses for African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Muslim and Jewish students as “tribal enclaves.”

A trio of conservative pundits is among the school’s most notable graduates: Tucker Carlson, George Will and Jesse Watters.

The Churchill Institute is “dedicated to the preservation, dissemination and extension of the Western moral and philosophical tradition.” The group is named for Winston Churchill, the British statesman whose legacy of fortitude during World War II is clouded by his history of racist remarks.

“Many students from a wide variety of communities within our campus have come forward to share their discomfort with this club being approved,” wrote Lexi Zanger and Trinna Larsen, the respective vice president and president-elect of the Student Government Association. “The Churchill Club has, during the process of requesting approval, referred to members of the community in degrading terms, including but not limited to calling concerned students ‘militant.’ ”

A request for comment was left Monday for representatives of the Churchill Institute.

The school’s administration had previously recommended that student leaders delay voting on the application until the fall so the college could bring in a consultant to examine the situation, but the SGA went ahead with its deliberations Sunday night.

“Of course issues concerning race are challenging on our campus. Are they any less challenging elsewhere in American society?” Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney wrote in an op-ed Monday published in The Courant. “This is a challenging moment on our campus and, as we see daily in other reports, on campuses across the country.”

It’s been a turbulent month at the college, where a longtime political science professor, Johnny Eric Williams, tweeted on Easter that “whiteness is terrorism” and referred to Barack and Michelle Obama as “white kneegrows.”

Williams took a paid leave of absence in 2017 after making racially-charged social media posts, which drew death threats and led to the rescinding of $200,000 in donations to the college. The black professor was slammed by conservative commentators, including Tucker Carlson, a Trinity graduate and Fox News host.

Student government leaders said in their rejection letter Monday that the Churchill Club had been heavy-handed.

“The advisor of the Churchill Club has threatened members of the Trinity College student body with legal action, curbing the rights of those students to exhibit free speech,” Zanger and Larsen wrote.

Despite not being sanctioned as an official campus organization, the group is still free to organize and discuss “Western Philosophy,” the rejection letter said.

Coleman McJessy, a freshman who is involved in the Trinity College Democrats, applauded the move.

“I’m pleased that the Student Government Association listened to the concerns of the campus community and rejected the Churchill Club and their rhetoric,” McJessy said. “It’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

SGA leaders said the schism on campus goes beyond the Churchill Club and its application for recognition, however.

“We would also like to recognize that the divide in our community cannot be attributed to the Churchill Club, these issues are part of a greater discussion that needs to be had in order to bring our community together,” the letter said. “As we approach next semester, the SGA aims to play an active role in addressing the larger issue of campus climate our campus faces. We appreciate the contributions and support of our fellow students as we strive to do so, and we look forward to continuing these conversations with the common goal of making this campus an inclusive and diverse home for us all.”

Neil Vigdor


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