The future of the College Republicans at the Duke University remains unclear after allegations that the club’s executive board removed a member because he is gay.
For now, despite a series of votes by the Duke Student Government, the Duke College Republicans still have student funding and their campus charter. But a potential civil lawsuit could be looming for multiple parties, including the club and the university.
The chapter has been under fire since April, when Justin Robinette, former chairman of the club, filed a complaint with the student judiciary against the organization, claiming he was impeached by the club’s executive board for being gay.
Carter Boyle, then the chairman of the College Republicans, said that Robinette’s sexuality wasn’t linked to the impeachment. In April, he told the Daily Tar Heel that Robinette disrespected members of the board, deliberately ignored members of UNC’s College Republicans, did not attend events and used the organization’s funds for personal use, including the purchase of Polo shirts in February.
Robinette lost the case in the student judiciary, but in August filed another case with eight other plaintiffs, who have said they received anonymous death threats and were also harassed by the members of the College Republicans.
The student judiciary refused to hear the case, ruling that the new material proposed for review involved student-on-student harassment, which falls outside of their jurisdiction. Those offenses need to be handled by the Duke University Police Department and the Office of Student Conduct, said Chief Justice Matthew Straus.
The petition, brought forward by the plaintiffs, included criminal offenses such as death threats and vandalism of Duke’s East campus bridge with anti-gay graffiti. Painted at the end of May, the graffiti read: “Lying fag Robinet [sic],” “DCR = righteous” and “Get AIDS in Hell.”
“We are not here to deal with criminal allegations,” Straus said.
Although the judiciary passed the case on to the university, no action has been taken so far. Robinette has met with the university’s President Richard Brodhead and Stephen Bryan, dean of students. An investigation conducted by Duke Police is still pending.
“The refusal of Duke University and Duke Student Government to hear this case places us in a legal limbo,” Robinette told The Daily Tar Heel Aug. 30.
The case was then taken up in the student senate Sep. 12 in the form of legislation to de-charter and de-fund the organization.
Senators were presented discriminatory e-mails and anonymous threatening messages received by Robinette and others. The information presented included 54 pages of documents, including emails, photos and screenshots of posts on CollegeACB, an anonymous online forum. The information was provided and presented by Robinette.
The alleged emails in the packet include former chairman of the College Republicans, Boyle, sending Robinette links to pornography, referring to President Obama as “President Wheat and Rice” and using other racist and anti-Semitic language.
Other alleged emails detail anti-gay sentiments from former club members. One email from a former College Republicans member reads: “Administrators cannot be allowed to encourage pro-gay behavior on campus. This is truly unbelievable. [...] It is one thing to encourage students to avoid dangerous drinking behaviors or drug use, but it is quite another to send a blast email calling for the defense and tolerance of immorality and sin.”
Some of the email threads are incomplete, however, and do not display what reply-emails were in response to; others emails do not show subject lines or other contextual information. The College Republicans have not presented their responses to the emails, and say that some of the emails in Robinette’s collection of emails have been edited.
Although the Duke student senate approved both pieces of legislation, the measure to de-fund the club was vetoed by Duke Student Government President Mike Lefevre, and the act to de-charter still needs approval of the Student Organization Finance Committee — an extension of the senate that deals with recognizing and funding student organizations.
Lefevre decided to veto the legislation after two of the club’s senior members — Boyle and Vice-Chairman Travis Rapp — resigned.
“With this change in leadership comes a new Duke CR — one that emphasizes political engagement while embodying the highest ideals of open and tolerant discourse,” Lefevre said in a press release. “Duke needs a unified Republican voice for students and I am confident that under new leadership and with ongoing communication with DSG, Duke CR can fill this role responsibly.”
Robinette and his supporters have since moved to seeking action against the club and Duke University in civil court.
“We are contemplating all our options,” Robinette said.
Tarini Parti is the State & National editor for the Daily Tar Heel, and a junior at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
See the documents presented by Robinette at the Duke senate meeting here: