An evangelical university in Minnesota has blocked a conservative student group from hosting a lecture by African-American pro-life activist Star Parker because of her “radically” held beliefs.
The University of Northwestern – St. Paul informed its chapter of Young America’s Foundation, a conservative student group, last month that it could not hold an open event featuring the 62-year-old conservative activist.
Parker is the founder of the 800-pastor network Center for Urban Renewal and Education and has long argued that the conservative agenda of traditional values, limited government and free markets are the greatest benefit to low-income Americans, especially African-Americans, in inner cities.
She has also long spoken about the negative impact that abortion and Planned Parenthood has had on the African-American community. Since 2017, Parker has served as part of the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative “to share ideas on how to best fix our nation’s most distressed zip codes.” She is also an appointee to the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission.
YAF’s chapter at the University of Northwestern had been working for months to host a prominent conservative to address their peers, according to a news release published March 5. But those plans were struck down by university officials.
“I accepted UNW YAF’s gracious invitation to defend life and traditional Christian principles,” Parker said in a statement. “Abortion has devastated the black community and is the moral crisis of our time. Christian universities are precisely where this urgent discussion should be happening.”
On Feb. 20, school administrators informed UNW YAF Chair Hayley Tschetter that the group would not be allowed to host Parker and listed a number of concerns.
The administration’s email said that the first concern was over the fact that the group was planning an “open” event.
“[I]t would be different if you were having a speaker just come speak to your club,” the letter explained. “Speakers open to all UNW students would have more strictness and then like I said we don’t typically do truly open events.”
The letter continued by explaining that there are other concerns about Parker.
“Our staff has been very adamant about bringing speakers to campus who educate and expand worldviews, but we really don’t bring speakers who radically hold beliefs that UNW as a whole would not agree with,” the email reads. “In the past UNW has stayed away from sensationalized speakers. I foresee us continuing to do this. After reviewing some of Star’s material online we didn’t feel she was a good fit for our community.”
The school recommended that YAF plan its future speaking events “far in advance” so that “appropriate” speakers can be discussed with administrators.
The school’s YAF chapter requested a meeting with the university's President Alan Cureton in hopes of getting a reversal of the decision. That meeting came on Feb. 27. According to YAF, Cureton was found to be “as resistant as the rest of the administrators.”
Cureton reportedly told the student leaders of the group that “he didn’t want to be divisive” and that “it’s better to provide a balanced view from different outlooks.” One example would be a panel discussion.
Tschetter asked Cureton what opposing viewpoint the school would want to have elevated.
“He didn’t really have an answer,” Tschetter explained.
Cureton told the student activists that they would be better off scheduling a meeting with the school’s vice president of student life Nina Barnes. As of Tuesday, Barnes has not responded to the group’s meeting request.
“I was excited to embark on this new adventure and thrilled that Star Parker agreed to come and speak to my campus,” Tschetter said in a statement. “After doing a little reading on several YAF speakers, I thought she could address some relevant topics to our campus. However, many are too fearful of ‘controversy’ to allow her lecture to take place. Issues already divide campuses, Christians, and people nationwide — speaking about them will not cause a divide, it will bring the underlying issues to light and provide an opportunity for them to be discussed openly and civilly.”
YAF spokesperson Spencer Brown, who took courses through UNW as a high school student, argued that the decision to prevent Parker from speaking is “a shocking departure from a school I once considered attending.”
“UNW has chosen to abandon their core principles as a Christian university — set above and apart — in favor of avoiding any potential discomfort brought about by an insightful lecture from one of America’s leading conservative women on critical issues UNW’s students will soon [face] with in the world,” Brown stressed.
The Christian Post reached out to UNW for comment and received an emailed response on Friday from April Moreton, vice president for Institutional Advancement.
"University of Northwestern did not ban Ms. Parker from speaking on campus," Moreton said. "Ms. Parker has spoken on our campus twice before to share her testimony. The student club responsible for inviting her, Young America’s Foundation, did not follow policies and procedures that are put in place for student club events. Therefore, because proper approval was not obtained, the student club was told they could not host the event.
"In addition, university administration had significant concerns regarding Ms. Parker’s contract which contained certain requirements the university could not accommodate.
"Furthermore, our statement on social media in response to information circulating sought to protect the students involved and Ms. Parker, but the lack of details caused more confusion," Moreton added. "For this, we sincerely apologize. Due to these misunderstandings, our stance on certain issues was not accurately represented. Northwestern is unwavering in our biblical foundation, therefore, we are passionately against abortion and take a pro-life stance."