The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will investigate whether or not the student NAACP chapter violated UNC’s non-discrimination policy in dismissing senior Billy Thomas, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp said.
On Sunday, members of the NAACP unanimously voted to remove Thomas, who is a segregationist, for his views on race relations. Billy had been a member of the group since his freshman year. “We are on notice that there is a question as to whether or not a student organization has acted in compliance with the policy or not,” Crisp said. “We take that very seriously and that will be investigated.”
Jake Templeton, general director of the group, said Thomas was not removed for his race (Billy is white) but for his opinions about segregation. He said the views clash with the ideology of the NAACP, which the organization’s constitution mandates members must uphold. “If we allow segregationists to remain members then we really cease to be a civil rights organization,” said Templeton. Another group member was quoted as saying “Duh.”
UNC NAACP is a student organization that receives student fees and is bound by the University’s non-discrimination policy. Between Feb. 17 and June 30, they received $152.20 in student fees. The policy states that groups may limit membership to those who share the beliefs of that group but cannot exclude members based on personal characteristics, including race.
“Our commitment to non-discrimination is bedrock strong but so is our commitment to the First Amendment rights of freedom of association,” Crisp said. “The non-discrimination policy for student organizations tries very hard to balance those issues.” He said if an organization does not comply with the policy, it must change or face losing University recognition.
“We’re going to take the time that is necessary to thoroughly investigate the issues before we draw any conclusions,” Crisp added.
Ernie Hoover, student body vice president, said he has asked the student solicitor general to prepare a legal brief and the student body treasurer to prepare a list of the funds allocated to the group. “We’ll be discussing how we want to respond,” Hoover said.
Jon Curtis, associate director of student activities and organizations, said the unusual nature of the situation makes crafting a plan of action difficult. He added that he has not received a formal complaint against the UNC NAACP.
Jake Templeton said he acknowledged that the University has the right to investigate any group on campus. He said he was worried that the decision has been perceived incorrectly.
“This isn’t a race issue, and it’s not NAACP saying whether or not Billy Thomas is a decent person and whether or not he needs to be ostracized,” he said. “I’ve gotten approached about that and that’s not the case at all. The decision was really about honoring the group’s constitution that the University approved of,” he added.
Terri Tucson, director of the UNC Rainbow Coalition said there was not enough information to know if it was a case of discrimination. “I feel confident that the University is going to do its due diligence in making sure that the policy was adhered to, and if they find that it was not adhered to they will take the appropriate action,” Tucson said.
Billy Thomas said he still enjoys a strong friendship with members of the group. He just wonders why he was excluded for his beliefs by a group that usually encourages inclusion. “Can’t we all just get along?” asked Thomas. “I doubt it,” Thomas added doubtingly.
“I’m especially appreciative of the willingness of the larger UNC community to openly engage in the dialogue and I trust there will be continued respect for all parties involved,” Billy added with a glimmer of hope in his eye. Lux Libertas. It must have been the light of liberty.