'White student union' tests boundaries

2012-12-04 11:00
Twenty-one-year-old student Matthew Heimbach (R) hands out leaflets against the construction of a mosque on the campus of Towson University. (Fabienne Faur, AFP)

Twenty-one-year-old student Matthew Heimbach (R) hands out leaflets against the construction of a mosque on the campus of Towson University. (Fabienne Faur, AFP)

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Towson - An American university student is working to create the country's first white student union, triggering debate over the limits of free speech.

"White culture is dying," Matthew Heimbach, aged 21, lamented as he distributed flyers on campus denouncing the building of a mosque near Towson University, where he is in his last year.

"Every other single group has a union - Jewish, black. Why don't white students get equal treatment?" said the tall, slightly heavy history major wearing a khaki jacket and a "sons of liberty" T-shirt.

Towson University, where two out of three students are white, is located just outside the east coast city of Baltimore, where most of the population is black.

Yet, "we live on a campus where there is discrimination against whites", Heimbach asserted, referring to the school's affirmative action programmes.

"Whites and Asians might actually score higher on tests but be denied access to university because we want diversity," he said, referring to the school administration.

30 members

Affirmative action, a policy aimed at correcting historical imbalances in education by favouring US minorities in public university admissions, hiring and other situations, is facing a lawsuit in the US Supreme Court.

The court's ruling next year on the case - brought by a white woman who argues she didn't get a spot in a Texas university because of her skin colour - could affect how universities across the United States take race into account in their admissions procedures.

For his part, Heimbach is president of the "White Student Union", which, though not officially recognised by the university, he said has around 30 members.

To earn official status the group needs an advisor - a teacher or a university staff member - which has proven elusive so far.

It's a struggle Heimbach is familiar with: Last year, he founded the "Youth for Western Civilisation", but that group's advisor eventually quit.

The group's activities had "a supremacist kind of agenda", said Victor Collins, the university's assistant vice president of student affairs for diversity.

Railing against multicultural society

It's "no problem to celebrate their own heritage. I do have a problem with white supremacy", he said.

"If your position is that your race should be over - and is much better than - all the races, that flies in the face of what we are about in this university or in most universities for that matter," he added.

And Heimbach "used to invite Jared Taylor, who is a well-known supremacist, to preach that message", Collins said.

Heimbach, who denied being racist, does, however, rail against what he calls the dangers of Marxism and a multicultural society, and warns of a coming "genocide" when minority groups overtake whites in the US population.

His positions - and his new group's bid for university recognition - have raised protests at Towson. More than a thousand students signed a petition to denounce his White Student Union.

"I'm thinking beginning a 'White Student Whatever Movement' or association would make it a racist thing," said Adi, a black student studying Instructional Technology.

Tolerance

However, the university said it was not clear it could prevent the group from gaining official status - provided, of course, it managed to fulfil all the administrative requirements.

The First Amendment to the US constitution, which protects freedom of expression, "is almost sacred in this country", said Collins.

"The university is very invested in protecting all rights for all students regardless how negative" the expression is, he said.

"We don't agree with his position, but we tolerate it," Collins said.

- SAPA
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