By Fleming Smith and Vanessa Moss
On this year’s anniversary of 9/11, controversy arose on campus when students discovered three posters for the “9/11 Never Forget Project.” These posters, a product of the Young America’s Foundation, depicted graphic images of different terrorist attacks. Stickers attached to the posters described the “Never Forget” project as “Remembering the Innocents Murdered by Radical Islamists.”
The posters, one of which appeared outside the front door of McClurg, were meant to accompany the Sewanee College Republican’s 9/11 memorial on the Quad. They were put up without permission by Amir Kamrani (C’18), the club’s acting president. In the days that followed, the Sewanee College Republicans club was briefly suspended by Office of Student Life, sparking conservative media outrage, before being reinstated due to the efforts of several of the club’s members.
On September 9, the Friday before the 9/11 memorial event, Kamrani sent other College Republican members to have the posters approved; Dean Hagi Bradley, Associate Dean of Students, denied the posters permission to appear on campus.
“When you’re looking at a poster for an event, and we don’t see any dates or times or the names of an organization, that enough is grounds for not allowing it,” said Bradley.
Kamrani tried to appeal the decision, but after no success, he elected to put up the posters without approval. “Later that night, at about 11 p.m., I got an email from Dean Hagi saying we needed to discuss what happens when a club is not in good standing,” said Kamrani. “Dean Hagi told me that the club was suspended, pending further investigation.”
Several conservative media outlets, including The Daily Caller, Campus Reform, and Fox News, picked up the story. The articles quote Bradley as denying the posters because they “invoke hate towards Muslims,” a quote that cannot be substantiated.
“I have a very strong and large group of conservative students and leaders from all across the country. I started talking with them and many of them are very active in different websites and news, and they asked if I could give them more information,” said Kamrani. “They asked me if it was alright if they publish an article, and I told him that’s alright with me.”
On September 13, Kamrani composed a letter to Bradley and Dean of Students Marichal Gentry, protesting the club’s suspension on the grounds that the posters had been censored by the university. The letter was co-signed by two other officers of the club, neither of whom consented to have their names attached to the letter as written.
The club has now been reinstated due to the efforts of the newly elected cabinet and several other College Republican members. After an emergency meeting on September 14, more than 100 members of the College Republicans voted for new officers. Pierre DuBois (C’17) became the chapter’s new president, with John Gaither (C’19) as Vice-President, Abbey Shockley (C’18) as Secretary, and Lindsey Floyd (C’18) as Treasurer. The cabinet recently appointed Jake Thompson (C’18) as Recruitment Chair and Madi Carter (C’17) as Public Relations Chair.
“When the university suspended us, other members like Jake Thompson (C ‘18), Jack Kennamer (C’18), Phillip Sharp (C’18), and Riley Malone (C’17) went to speak to Dean Hagi to clear the air,” said DuBois. “Once the university understood that Amir’s actions were his own and not on the behalf of the Sewanee College Republicans, we were reinstated, pending investigation.”
According to the College Republicans, Kamrani had no authority to speak for their group, and they were not aware of his intent to put up the posters. The last officially elected president of their club was Hendricks Stowe (C’18), elected in April 2015. Before the end of his term, Stowe decided to hand his duties to another member. Per the bylaws, Kamrani, as the elected Vice-President, accepted the role. Under his directorship, the club did not hold regular meetings, and no elections occurred last year.
“At this point, our bylaws state that because he did not hold elections, he gave up his ability to speak for us as the Sewanee College Republicans president,” said DuBois. Without official elections, the club’s charter became void, and they were no longer recognized by the Tennessee College Republican Committee as one of their affiliates. Kamrani, however, says he did not have access to the bylaws and was not notified of this change.
At the club’s emergency meeting, members discussed their suspension and decided to hold new elections. Kamrani elected not to run for an office, as he had recently decided to become co-chair of the Trump campaign for Franklin County. Kamrani voluntarily withdrew from the club later that night after pressure from some of the members.
“The plan was to have elections on September 30,” said Kamrani. “I think the Sewanee Republicans are not going to be standing on the right of the political spectrum.” Kamrani criticized the reluctance of the College Republicans to officially endorse Trump as nominee, and announced his plans to start other conservative organizations on campus, such as a chapter of the Young America’s Foundation.
On September 14, Shockley released a retraction letter written by her and Henry Thornton (C’18) to clarify the club’s position both to the community at large and the various conservative media outlets that printed stories. “The Sewanee College Republicans sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by the crude and shocking posters that were presented under our name last week,” begins the letter. “We also formally rescind any claim that they were suspended unjustly, or that we were censored in any way.”
The cabinet emphasized their support for Bradley. “We give our condolences and our appreciation to Dean Hagi, who put up with a lot over that entire week. We love him as a club, we love him as individuals,” said Shockley.
Kamrani stands by his decision to hang the materials on campus. “The university was trying to censor the posters,” he said. “I don’t think the administration has been straightforward and honest on this. I think they need to issue a public letter of apology.” He added that many Sewanee faculty and alumni have supported his actions and suggested a public demonstration, though he would not give their names.
He also pointed to the need for a clear list of criteria for poster approval. A document on poster and publicity approval, last updated September 13, can be found on OrgSync through search. The list specified that “materials must not be obscene,” and repeats Bradley’s point that any publicity must include the name of an organization as well as date, time, and location. The document also says that “posting in McClurg requires permission from a supervisor in dining.”
The College Republicans now intend to gain a fresh start for their organization. The new cabinet plans to host several events leading up to the November election, such as debate watch parties or visiting speakers. The group also wants to reach out to other organizations on campus, especially those who have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party.
“Now, we are re-chartered, we are in good standing, and we also have a faculty advisor,” said DuBois. “At this point, it’s all really about moving forward.”