Seeking white, heterosexual males

When the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) College Republicans advertised a satirical scholarship, they probably expected some sort of reaction from the campus community.

The group advertised a scholarship for “White Heterosexual American Males” (WHAM), offering $100 to anyone who fit those requirements. According to the College Republicans’ application form, an eligible student would need to answer “yes” to a series of questions asking if the applicant were white, heterosexual, American, and male. The student would also have to provide his GPA, name, phone number, and valid e-mail address. Finally, an applicant would have to submit an essay: 100 words describing what being a WHAM meant to him, and what adversities he had had to overcome.

The satirical scholarship was meant to make a statement. URI’s College Republicans had hoped to protest current scholarships awarded on the basis of a person’s ethnicity, gender, or country of origin. According to a press release by the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, over 40 URI students had applied for the scholarship, and many had apparently submitted equally satirical essays.

The reaction that the College Republicans received rivaled something out of an elementary school playground tussle. Like a kindergarten teacher taking him-or herself too seriously, URI’s Student Senate reprimanded the College Republicans, telling its members to apologize for advertising a scholarship “with features that the WHAM scholarship possessed,” — or else.

Yes, the scholarship was a haunting reminder of race and class divisions in the country. However, URI’s College Republicans had made a statement that was witty, and poignant. Instead of attacking a particular group, instead of combating prejudice with blatant, anti-minority arguments, URI’s College Republicans turned to satire and humor. It would seem that the only appropriate reaction for URI’s campus would be respect for the way in which the group made its statement.

When the College Republicans refused to apologize, the Senate withdrew recognition of the organization. URI’s president opposed the Sudent Senate’s move and wrote a letter to the Student Senate stating, “It is a sanction that does not meet constitutional standards as laid forth in the First Amendment.”

This was a poor move by URI’s Student Senate. To compel an organization to make an apologetic statement that goes against what it believes harkens back to similar tactics used by dictators throughout history. By throwing free speech to the wind and forcing the College Republicans to apologize, URI’s Student Senate ironically came off more like totalitarian bullies than the democratic body that a student senate should strive to be.