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University of Dallas anti-racism club finally approved

A club aiming to uplift UD's students of color had been stymied repeatedly in 2020, but has now been approved directly by the outgoing university president.

After months of wrangling and waiting, Student Leaders for Racial Solidarity (SLRS), a club at the University of Dallas, has finally been approved—though by fiat rather than formality.

In an unprecedented move announced on Friday, the president of the university, Dr. Thomas Hibbs, approved the club himself, following a contentious battle within the student government—and university faculty—about whether it would be a positive addition.

The decision from Hibbs pre-empted a third attempt by SLRS to attain approval via UD’s student government, with the initial tabling occurring in early November (and occasioning various changes to the club's name and constitution).

Joshua Nunn, the president and founder of the club, told BCM that month that some student senators were hesitant to vote on the club’s status before SG elections, which occurred last week.

Former SG president Joe Scholz added that at that point, the club already had "sufficient senate votes for approval", but was tabled anyway.

Despite this, and the recent decision from Hibbs to step down from the university presidency entirely, meetings between him and the SLRS faculty advisors were convincing enough for him to approve the club outright.

"I'm glad President Hibbs has worked so closely with us to overcome our initial challenges of getting our club past the SG approval process," Nunn told BCM earlier today.

Scholz also applauded the move, saying he "steadfastly supports the administration’s decision to approve the club without taking further procedural steps".

"To have required further review of a club already approved by the university’s president would have... engender[ed] unnecessary divisiveness within the UD community."

Hibbs had previously sent out a joint statement in January with the university’s chair of the board, Richard Husseini, and chancellor, Dallas’ Bishop Edward Burns, which praised SLRS but did not address its official university status.

The statement also announced a university-sponsored event with Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation (and former director of its Catholic health-sharing ministry, CMF CURO).

Nunn says the event, promised to SLRS leaders back in the Fall and held on February 1st, was “terrific”.

Brown, himself African American, served in the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services department before returning to the Christ Medicus in 2019. He was added to the UD board of trustees around the same time the SLRS application was first tabled by SG officials.

The University News (TUN), UD’s student newspaper, reported thereafter on the SG debacle, as well as other recent incidents of racism on campus. Around the same time, Brown was helping Nunn and the other SLRS leaders with their constitution and the approval process.

By January, President Hibbs had introduced a series of solidarity initiatives, including scholarships, cultural events, and, indeed, a more diverse board of trustees.

He also published an op-ed on race issues in TUN, just a few days before announcing his decision to make SLRS official by his own power.

Nunn and the other SLRS leaders (including Natalie Villafranca and Prince Obegolu), all upperclassmen, now look to continue their work in the three months left for the semester.

"We plan on having a few events, which will most likely be a speaker or two and community service event," said Nunn, who like Villafranca will graduate in May.

"My main focus as the president right now," he said, "is to make sure we have sustainable leadership for years to come."

"This can't be an initiative that just fades away."

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).