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Students at Washington & Lee University banned from passing out flyers for Republican Glenn Youngkin


Students at Washington & Lee University in Virginia are BANNED from passing out flyers for Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin

  • During an annual fair at Washington & Lee University College Republicans displayed campaign materials in support of Glenn Youngkin 
  • But the club was told by Director of Student Activities Kelsey Goodwin that their display violated university policy and to remove all endorsement material
  • Goodwin said because the university is a tax-exempt organization, the school could not endorse political figures
  • While the university itself cannot endorse a candidate, students at the school are free to because they speak for themselves and not the school they attend 
  • Student’s free speech has no effect on the university’s tax-exempt status, so there is no rationale behind stopping students from handing out campaign flyers
  • The College Republicans were backing Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who is now tied with opponent Terry McAuliffe


Republican students at Washington & Lee University in Virginia have been banned from displaying campaign material in support of GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, claiming lobbying for a politician violates the private university’s policy and threatens its tax-exempt status.

During an 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 in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in time for the November 2 elections, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reported. 

But soon after, members of the club were told by Director of Student Activities Kelsey Goodwin that their display violated the private university’s policy and that they had to remove all materials endorsing political candidates. 

The College Republicans were trying to drum up support for Youngkin, who was trailing Democrat Terry McAuliffe in August 47 percent to 42 percent but now the race is now tied at 46 percent, according to the latest poll by the Monmouth University Polling Institute. 

College Republicans President Lillian Gillespie (pictured) has argued that students should be able to advocate for a candidate

The College Republicans were backing Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who is now tied with opponent Terry McAuliffe

The College Republicans were backing Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, who is now tied with opponent Terry McAuliffe

The school had told the Republican students they couldn’t post the flyers because the private university is a tax-exempt organization that could not endorse political figures.

But Sabrina Conza of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a students’ rights organization, said Gillespie was not breaking any rules and wants the university to rectify 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?’ said 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.’  

Students were told by Director of Student Activities Kelsey Goodwin (pictured) that their display violated university policy

Students were told by Director of Student Activities Kelsey Goodwin (pictured) that their display violated university policy

While Washington and Lee University (pictured) itself cannot endorse a candidate, students at the school are free to because they speak for themselves and not the school they attend

While Washington and Lee University (pictured) itself cannot endorse a candidate, students at the school are free to because they speak for themselves and not the school they attend

According to FIRE, while the university itself cannot endorse a candidate, students at the school are free to lobby for their choice because they speak for themselves and not the school they attend.  

FIRE added that student’s free speech has no effect on the university’s tax-exempt status, so there is no rationale behind stopping Republican students from handing out or displaying campaign material for any political candidate. 

‘I was shocked then I found out that we couldn’t disseminate campaign materials on campus,’ Gillespie said. ‘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 in support of political candidates and referred Gillespie to the university’s attorneys concerning any legal issues.  

During the October meeting, the university held firm and told students that they were not allowed to advocate for their preferred candidate.     

Following the incident Goodwin sent an email to both Gillespie and the College Democrats president Judy Park containing the guidelines for political activity on campus. 

The guidelines specified that ‘Student political organizations (College Republicans, Young Democrats, etc.) are not prohibited from pursuing their normal activities consistent with the academic nature of their endeavors,’ but added that ‘these student organizations…must identify at any such event – particularly one in which a candidate for political office is present – that the purpose of the event is educational, and does not imply any endorsement of (or opposition to) any candidate by the University.’ 

Gillespie responded to the university with an email that said it was ‘preposterous that the actions and opinions of a small minority of students dedicated to politics and political activity could be construed to represent the beliefs of the University as a whole.’

FIRE said they reached out to the Virginia university on September 23 regarding their concerns about student’s political expression being restricted but so far no one at the university has responded.

The Virginia governor’s race has tightened despite Joe Biden winning the state by nearly 10 points in his run for president. However, Biden’s approval numbers have slipped to 43 percent among the commonwealth’s voters from from 52 percent when he was elected. 

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