By: Caitlyn Freeman, Editor in Chief
Despite the controversy over leaked messages showing members using bigoted language, Towson University’s chapter of Turning Point USA will remain an on-campus organization after successfully finding a replacement adviser for now-retired Richard Vatz.
H. George Hahn II, a longtime professor and former English Department chair, will now serve as the chapter’s faculty sponsor, a university spokesperson confirmed.
To be an official student organization, groups must meet baseline requirements each academic semester, including having at least five members and maintaining an adviser, according to Student Affairs documents.
The faculty adviser must be a full-time employee. Thus, Vatz, who became the group’s adviser during the fall 2022 semester, was no longer eligible after retiring in January.
With Vatz gone, Turning Point had until March 15 to find a replacement. As is with all student organizations, if they didn’t meet the deadline, they’d receive a two-week grace period, according to information provided in an email from Matt Lenno, assistant vice president of Student Affairs.
Now, with a replacement for Vatz secured, the group can continue to operate officially on campus.
Hahn nor the chapter could not be reached for comment.
Outside of his role as a professor, Hahn’s faculty bio says he’s authored 58 op-ed columns and five books. He founded the Masters program for Humanities and was a recipient of the President’s Award for Distinguished Service to the University.
The Turning Point chapter came under fire in October after leaked GroupMe messages showing members using racist, homophobic and ablest language swept the campus via social media.
One thread shows a member referring to LGBTQ Pride Month as “f—-” month. Another thread showed someone calling the monkeypox outbreak the “f—- virus.”
The chapter has a history of posting homophobic content on its Instagram account. In June, the group posted an image of a Pride flag that said: “Day 8 of pride month. I identify as a helicopter. How dare you think otherwise.”
After the messages leaked, many called for Vatz to step down from his advisory role. However, he remained because he said the chapter members were remorseful. In response, he was heavily criticized by some of his colleagues and those within the university’s shared governance.
The messages surfaced a day after the group hosted Gordana Schifanelli, Maryland’s Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and Michael Peroutka, the Republican nominee for attorney general, to lead a conversation about the U.S. Constitution.
The event and chapter were met with heavy controversy online, and many TU students denounced Peroutka’s past association with the League of the South, a pro-confederate white supremacist group.
Similarly, in their first public event since the leaked messages, the chapter hosted a political debate on Feb. 22 that included Shekinah Hollingsworth, a self-proclaimed Christian nationalist who has come under fire for espousing homophobic and connection to the white nationalist movement.
The debate was between Hollingsworth, who represented the far-right faction of the Republican party and Austin Petersen, a candidate in the 2016 Libertarian Presidential primaries.
“I think [the debate] went well,” Hollingsworth said. “It was definitely very heated. Austin and I are very passionate about our world views, and I was glad to be able to represent America first and tell people what thats all about.”
Hollingsworth ran for a Maryland House of Delegates seat in the 2022 Republican primaries for Harford County but lost. During the campaign, she came under fire after a video surfaced where she said she’s fine with being called homophobic and a neo-nazi if that’s how others define her views.
“I don’t mind being called those things,” Hollingsworth, a biracial woman, said in an interview.
She came under scrutiny for referring to Heath Barnes, a fellow Republican who ran in the 2022 primaries for a House seat in Frederick County, as a homophobic slur in response to him calling her a bigot.
She said that as a Catholic, she believes in a nuclear family.
“If that makes me a homophobe, then I guess I’m a homophobe,” Hollingsworth said Wednesday.
Additionally, Hollingsworth has been criticized for her support of Nick Fuentes, a live-streamer who the SPLC and Anti-Defamation League have labeled a white supremacist.
Towson student Jenna Heisman said she attended the event out of curiosity but doesn’t support Turning Point.
“I’m a Jewish woman, and I have always heard things from the media about the other side, but I have never seen it in person, and so I wanted to experience it and see it for myself,” she said.
Both the debate and presentation in October were protested by members of Towson’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialist of America.
Richard Soucy, the chapter’s president, said they were disappointed but not surprised to hear the group found a new adviser.
“It’s important to like, not get defeated about this, right,” they said. “Because sure, it would have been nice if they didn’t get a new advisor, but these kinds of people will stick around in spaces. So it’s important to not get discouraged and keep putting in effort to show focus on like, improving the community.”
Courtney Ott contributed to this story.