by Anika Banerjee ’24 (she/her), Staff Writer
Davidson Students are curious, thoughtful, kind, and many are deeply interested in understanding how to be better members of their community and the world as a whole. They value inclusion,” Josh Lodish ‘22 said.
Prior to January 28th, 2021, Davidson’s bylaws stated that 80 percent of Davidson’s Board of Trustees had to identify as Christian and the President, along with 25 percent of the Board, had to be Presbyterian. In a very significant departure from tradition, Alison Mauzé ‘84, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, announced that going forward, only 25 percent of Board members must be Presbyterian, with the remaining members being of any faith, and the President need not identify as Presbyterian.
This announcement was brought about by a significant background group effort. Mauzé said that leadership among board members, community, and most importantly, the students, was the guiding force behind this change.
Dahlia Krutkovich ‘21, President of the Jewish Student Union (JSU), worked to change the bylaws at Davidson because she cares for the wellbeing of the institution. Her motives were completely unrelated to her religious affiliation;rather, as she said via email, she “thought these bylaws were outdated and understood their importance to the life at the school.”
“I wanted to mobilize young alumni and fellow students, because collective action was so important as far as writing into the bylaw comments email [and] the board survey was concerned (two means of feedback the Board used to measure the bylaws’ popularity among alumni and students were an email address managed by alumni relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, and an official survey),” Krutkovich said. “I knew that many older alumni had very strong feelings about the bylaws and were more likely to write in, while younger alumni and current students wouldn’t necessarily realize how important filling out the survey would be.”
Lodish ‘22, a member of the Council on Campus and Religious Life, greatly contributed to this change along with Krutkovich.
In an e-mailed response, Lodish said, “I believe that the religion someone happens to be born into does not have an impact on their ability for success in leadership of our school, and that understanding the Davidson community, being a part of it, or even leading it is not prohibited to a certain group of people based on their religion.”
This alteration to the bylaws was in part a reaction to the student body’s demands for change. Krutkovich said that there were a number of steps that went into making this happen.
“I worked with other current students to raise awareness about the bylaw change among the general student body, organized a teach-in with alumni who worked on changing the bylaws during their time at the school, and spoke on the Alumni Relations panel about what it meant to me as a non-Christian student to attend a school with these sorts of restrictions on governance,” she said.
As for Lodish, he supported the change wholeheartedly.
“I worked to encourage the group to work toward changing the bylaws, drafted a statement on behalf of the group, and presented it to the President of the Board and other Board members last winter,” he said. “This fall, I was part of a student group that re-activated the campaign to change the bylaws, called Sufficient Support, by holding meetings, taking over their website, hosting a workshop on activism around this topic, and creating a template to write letters to the Board in support of the change.”
Furthermore, he wrote an article for The Davidsonian and spread the word among his friends and classmates as well as in his capacity as President of the JSU.
In his words, “Davidson Students are usually respectful of others and appreciate learning from one another.”
Whether or not these qualities stem from religious affiliation, Board members and students alike have found Davidson to be an accepting community that values admirable principles.
So, is this the logical first step towards becoming a non-denominational institution? Mauzé denied this vigorously.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “Davidson is dedicated to its Presbyterian affiliation and heritage — Davidson has not changed the college’s religious affiliation. Actually, we just reaffirmed it.”
While Lodish was happy to see the bylaws revisions, he stated, “These changes should have happened many years ago, and I am glad the school has taken steps to live up to its stated value system by increasing inclusivity in our bylaws. As a Jew attending a school with religiously discriminatory bylaws, I felt quite unwelcome.”
Krutkovich seconded Lodish’s thoughts.
“I’m glad to see the bylaws changed,” she said. “I think doing away with the 80 percent Christian requirement means that not only will more people be eligible for board service, but more people will want to engage with the governance of the school. I think the 80 percent Christian bylaw represented something prohibitive — it telegraphed to non-Christians (religious or secular) that their input was simply not as important as others.”
She added, “There are many Presbyterian students I know who themselves said they would be uncomfortable serving in a role with such a requirement, because it demonstrated a very narrow conception of what Davidson is and who can participate in the highest forms of ‘leadership and service.’”
“Davidson would not allow people of my faith community to ever be the President of the school, not because of their ability to succeed, but only because of their religion,” Lodish said.
He contends that Davidson’s bylaws display active discrimination against people of certain faith backgrounds, and this change will create a more welcoming environment.
Buncie Lanners ‘83 offered the perspective of an alumni with close ties to the Presbyterian tradition. When it came to choosing a college, Davidson’s Presbyterian affiliation was certainly a part of Lanners’s decision. She came from a long line of Presbyterian ministers, including her grandfather, who graduated from Davidson in 1916.
Despite this, she stated via email that “the religious affiliation was second to Davidson’s superior educational reputation — as a respected liberal arts institution with rigor and the Honor Code.”
Linda Tastapaugh ‘88 was looking for a number of qualities when she was picking her future college: academic rigor, size, majors, and financial aid. Davidson’s religious affiliation did not play a role in her college criteria.
“The only way in which Davidson’s Presbyterian affiliation may have affected my college search is that I ruled out colleges with affiliations to very conservative or evangelical denominations that I felt were likely to want to tell me what to think,” she said in an email.
Lanners and Tatsapaugh agreed that the recent revision to the bylaws is a response to the evolving socio political environment in the U.S.
“If Davidson had not reformed based on the current milieu of that time (1970s and 80s), it would still be an all male school, and you, Allie, my daughter (class of 2013), Sarah Lanners, nor I would be there or be alums!” said Lanners.
Mauzé disagreed, however. She said that the Board did not decide to revise bylaws in response to the U.S.’s rapidly changing demographics.
Rather, she said over email, “The board was strongly united in this effort and believes these amendments will keep Davidson firmly rooted in its mission, values and tradition and position the college for a stronger future.”
Mauzé reiterated, “The amendments made to the bylaws this year are completely in line with, and fundamentally honor, Davidson’s ties with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Reformed Tradition.”
Doug Jobe ‘91 another Davidson alumni, supported Mauzé’s claim in an e-mailed response, stating, “This change has been forthcoming for a while and isn’t driven by the current political, social or demographic scenario the last 14 months or so.”
“The overall ethos of the reformed Presbyterian Church was a strong presence that helped create a wonderful, nurturing learning environment, and I’m sure that had a subconscious impact,” Jobe said. “Davidson is producing wonderful graduates that can go change the world both now and in the future.”
Students and alumni alike expressed the sentiment that this change was long overdue. Few community members openly dissented the decision, and none responded to inquiry from The Davidsonian in time for publication.
According to Lodish, one Board member shared that of all 50 Presbyterian Colleges in the United States, only Davidson required that the president identify as Presbyterian. As both students and alumni indicated, the Board’s decision to change the bylaws reflects the will of the community.
“I think this bylaw change will substantively push the governance of the school to consider a broader sense of what Davidson is, while still maintaining the core values of leadership and service,” Krutkovich said.