A Towson University student has proposed a campus White Student Union, leaving administrators and the student government walking a fine line between students' First Amendment rights and avoiding what many are calling outright racism at the Maryland university.
"Every ethnic group has its own advocacy group but white students don't," Matthew Heimbach, a senior studying U.S. history at Towson, told The Huffington Post.
Tensions were further inflamed last week when the group brought Jared Taylor to campus. Taylor is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "white nationalist" who has argued black hate crimes against whites exponentially outnumber white-on-black hate crimes. Taylor came to offer support for the proposed White Student Union, claiming it "a spectacular double standard that only whites are singled out and told they can't have a race-based organization."
In his presentation at Towson, Taylor reportedly explained why diversity is a problem, citing examples like race riots in prisons.
Heimbach is no stranger to controversy. He led a campus chapter of Youth for Western Civilization, an anti-multiculturalism right-wing group which lost its recognition by the Towson student government last spring when its faculty adviser resigned. Members of the YWC were accused of chalking "White Pride" around campus.
Heimbach said he thought forming the White Student Union would have broader appeal after the YWC fallout. He insisted the people who are most vocal in their opposition to a White Student Union are the same as those who hated the YWC and aren't fans of college Republicans.
"Any time there's a group with conservative principles and white students standing up for themselves, it's a battle cry for radical leftists on campus," Heimbach said. "There's nothing I could do or say … to try and get these people on the same page as us."
Many of the students who spoke to HuffPost compared this White Student Union to that now-disbanded Towson chapter of YWC.
"The rhetoric used to justify the YWC and now the White Student Union is just a means to legitimate open hate speech on the grounds of embracing the right to free speech," said Raul Ceballos, a 22-year-old junior at Towson.
Glenn Daniels Jr., who graduated from Towson last year, said the White Student Union would be the exact same thing at the YWC, and he isn't wasn't sure why the university is giving Heimbach a chance to form another group. Daniels said many students don't feel comfortable with a group like this on campus.
"I have full confidence that the president is taking the right steps [but] I'm disappointed in the Student Government Association," Daniels said. He hopes the SGA denies Heimbach's request to be an official Towson student group.
Brandy N. Hall, president of the Towson SGA, told HuffPost it remains an "unbiased party" and hasn't received paperwork from Heimbach yet. So for now, "SGA has no opinion."
So far, 1,128 people have signed a petition calling for Towson President Maravene Loeschke to denounce the White Student Union.
Victor Collins, assistant vice president of student affairs for diversity at Towson, insisted in a recent interview with HuffPost Live that it will not allow racist groups on their campus.
"The organization has the right to exist as long as they follow all the rights and regulations; we cannot stop a group from forming an organization," Collins said. "No student organization on our campus can in fact restrict by race membership. The black student union has white members."
Many also questioned why a student would feel the need to form a White Student Union, given that the school is predominately Caucasian. English professor Lena Ampadu Ph.D., has taught at Towson for three decades and said the majority of the campus has always been white. Currently, 68 percent of Towson's student population is white.
"If people would want to start a white student union at an HBCU (Historically Black College & University), it would make more sense," Collins said.
Heimbach said there are many issues his group would address. He said he knows white female students who feel they're not protected on campus and white students who have been reluctant to file bias reports. Heimbach said he has more than a dozen students interested in joining his group.
If they're approved by the SGA, they'll bring in speakers, discuss affirmative action and "stop talking about white identity as something that's negative," Heimbach said. He also hopes to launch "an awareness campaign about the rising black on white crime, especially in the Baltimore area." He also recently announced his group would perform night patrols and potentially make "citizen's arrests."
Critics point out Americans of European descent generally considered today as white -- such as Italians, Germans and Slavs -- were once regarded as minorities.
But Heimbach said he wishes people would "stop insulting white students for simply trying to stand up for who they are."
Ceballos doesn't think Heimbach gets it. "The nature of minority student groups on campus has always been an avenue for self-expression, empowerment, solidarity and social engagement in a predominantly white institution," Ceballos said, with that institution being the college campus.
"Heimbach’s assertions that there is some sort of bias against white people at Towson is ignoring the sheer fact of the cultural hegemony that encircles college campuses nationwide," Ceballos added. "Minority under representation, whether intentional or incidental, is a very real phenomenon within our country."