EXCLUSIVE: ONU denies College Republicans’ ‘Back the Blue’ apparel design
Ohio Northern University denied the College Republicans chapter’s request to print 'Back the Blue' shirts that the chapter designed to also include the Thin Blue Line flag.
'Campus Reform' obtained copies of the email exchange between the university and club, which prompted the latter's president to say she feels 'silenced' by the school.
The Ohio Northern University College Republicans chapter was denied approval recently for “Back the Blue” apparel by the university due to other schools having had to “retract and apologize” for similar initiatives.
ONU College Republicans designed shirts with “Back the Blue” printed on the sleeve and a Thin Blue Line flag printed on the back. The shirt design does not include ONU lettering and shows no affiliation with the university.
"Back the Blue" refers to a nationwide movement in support of police.
College Republicans president Madeline Markwood told Campus Reform that although she did not have to, she decided to seek approval for the apparel from the university as she hopes to “maintain an outstanding reputation on campus.”
Markwood is also a Campus Reform correspondent.
“In the student handbook nothing states an organization has to get apparel approved, however, I received an email telling student organization presidents to get apparel approved. In which case, we went ahead and asked for approval to be considerate of their wishes and make sure everyone was happy,” she said.
“My intentions of making sure everyone (College Republicans and the Communication and Marketing Department) were on the same page and informed of what our organization was doing ended up just backfiring,” Markwood continued.
In emails obtained by Campus Reform, ONU associate director of Communications and Marketing Sheila Baumgartner replied to Markwood on September 17 by admitting the request’s “sensitivity” caused the office to discuss the request with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion board and the Office of Multicultural Development office.
“They then discussed as a group and would recommend not moving forward with this project. There are several schools who allowed Blue Lives initiatives who have had to retract and apologize,” Baumgartner said.
Providing the reasoning behind the decision, Baumgartner cited situations at Greece Central School District’s Odyssey Academy and Emerson College when the schools apologized for displaying the Thin Blue Line flag.
“The support for not sanctioning this is massive,” she said.
In response to this news, ONU College Republicans faculty adviser Robert Waters told Campus Reform that the university is neglecting one of its key tenents.
“One of a university's many roles is to foster discussion and allow students to express themselves in ways that help them affirm their beliefs and identities," Waters said. "If a student organization wants to celebrate the police who protect them, their families, and their communities, that certainly fits within this definition."
As a consolation, Baumgartner offered to organize a discussion between the College Republicans chapter and the Office of Multicultural Development in order to talk about “what might be perceived as problematic about this message.”
Markwood then reached out to Interim Director of Multicultural Development Albertina Walker and Multicultural Administrative Intern Holton Watson to set up a meeting to discuss the rejection.
Walker replied that the office would be “delighted” to “explore the thin blue line flag and its complicated place right now in American culture” with the organization.
“In the meantime, if you would share (here in email) your organization’s understanding of the symbol, including what it stands for, I would be most appreciative,” Walker wrote.
“I think there is a misconception,” Markwood responded. “There is not a meaning behind the support of the Police Union. We are looking to discuss your reasoning and belief of this to be controversial.”
Walker replied that the office needs to “understand what it means for your organization to ‘support the Police Union’ by selling its paraphernalia” so that she can “understand [Markwood’s] perspective.”
“In our most sincere regards, we are both on different pages or even in different books,” Markwood responded.
“If I may be frank, we do not believe we have to prove the reason for our support nor explain our reasoning. It is self explanatory. We think the explanation should come from you showing, us the reasoning on behalf of your perspective(s) of it being problematic, controversial, and being an issue in American Culture,” Markwood continued.
Markwood went on to conjecture that the heart of the issue is that the university does not wish to “create a dispute” between its previously stated support for Black Lives Matter and Back the Blue on campus.
In response to the death of George Floyd in June 2020, ONU president Daniel DiBiasio sent a university-wide email expressing his support for Black Lives Matter.
“Above all, we must engage in both the national conversation and determine how this moment can be a catalyst for positive change at our University. We can begin by truly listening to other voices, particularly the voices of our African American students, colleagues and graduates because Black Lives Matter,” DiBiasio wrote in last year's statement.
“I find it appalling that ONU looks down negatively on the brave men and women who serve and protect us every day,” a member of ONU College Republicans who wishes to remain anonymous said to Campus Reform.
“Policing is an important issue, and supporting police and saving lives has at least as much public support and ethical validity as criticizing police and demanding de-policing,” Waters told Campus Reform.
“This decision by the University has further concreted their stance and policy on limiting free speech and community discussion for specific groups of individuals,” the anonymous student said.
Markwood told Campus Reform that “since the apparel is on hold from the situation, we have taken matters in our hands and made a big thank you poster for our local police department.”
“Our nation has already made it difficult for us (conservatives) to live, without us ever realizing it. I just didn't expect a small D3 school in the middle of Ohio to find it a priority of theirs to silence us,” Markwood added.
Campus Reform reached out to Ohio Northern University but did not receive a response.