Throughout the annual activities fair at the liberal arts school in Lexington on September 12, College Republicans President Lillian Gillespie displayed campaign materials at the club's booth to aid Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in time for the November 2 elections, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reported.
However, shortly after, members of the club were told by Director of Student Activities Kelsey Goodwin that their display broke the private university's policy and that they had to remove all materials backing political candidates.
The College Republicans were attempting to drum up support for Youngkin, who was trailing Democrat Terry McAuliffe in August 47 percent to 42 percent though now the race is now tied at 46 percent, according to the latest survey by the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The school had told the Republican students they couldn't post the flyers due to the private university being a tax-exempt organization that could not endorse political figures.
Sabrina Conza of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a students' rights organization, announced that Gillespie was not breaking any rules and wanted the university to correct the situation.
"What is the purpose of College Republicans or College Democrats organizations if they can't actually advocate for a Republican or a Democrat?" asked Conza, who is a program analyst for FIRE. "Goodwin is wrong in her assessment of the law, and the university is wrong to remain silent after censoring students who want to take part in the political process. Now they must make it right."
According to FIRE, while the university itself cannot endorse a candidate, students at the school are welcome to lobby for their choice because they speak for themselves and not the school they attend.
FIRE continued that student's free speech has no effect on the university's tax-exempt status, so there is no reason behind stopping Republican students from handing out or displaying campaign material for any political candidate.
"I was shocked when I found out that we couldn't disseminate campaign materials on campus," Gillespie announced. "I hope that publicizing this story gives students on both sides of the aisle more agency and liberty."
The university met with Gillespie on September 30 and October 18 and told her that the college has always had a policy against student organizations handing out material supporting political candidates and referred Gillespie to the university's attorneys regarding any legal matters.
Throughout the October meeting, the university held firm and told students that they could not advocate for their preferred candidate.