BY SABRINA EDWARDS ’20
Sitting in Blanch, waiting to meet a staff writer, I overheard a group of students cold-calling community members to advertise The Conservative Women’s Summit. Another student approached them and began arguing with the group. Being both journalistically obsessed with a good story and super nosy, I listened in. The student who approached the group was initially met with respectful challenges to her ideas. This, I thought, was what campus discourse should be: multiple voices bouncing ideas around. However, as the conversation continued, the questions became more personal, the tone more biting. After that student left, the table joked for a bit and continued making calls. One student reached a caller and began to chat with them, complaining loudly about the “liberals” on campus. “They just don’t like confrontation,” she said. “They’d rather just cry.”
It’s difficult to explain exactly what’s wrong with the current representation of conservative voices on campus without resorting to the same vitriol and hostility that many have experienced at the hands of the College Republicans, whether through the speakers they have brought to campus, the anger they inspire in other student organizations or simply their interactions with other students.
The College Republicans have developed a reputation for their controversial events which alienate groups on campus and perpetuate falsehoods. The Conservative Women’s Summit held this past week showed just that. Regardless of the substance of the event, which I understand was at least superficially civil, the rhetoric surrounding the summit was a disaster. The advertising for the event included topics which are currently and genuinely upsetting for many people, like the Israel-Palestine debate and the appropriation of traditional Middle Eastern cuisine as “Israeli food.” The presentation of the event perpetuated the villainous image of a College Republican –– a white woman wringing her hands and cackling over campus infighting. To say this event was an unfair and inaccurate representation of the student body’s conservative and independent voices is quite the understatement.
In many ways, the College Republicans appear ridiculous. They voluntarily join this predominantly liberal community and form a mean-spirited, miniscule, masturbatory circle of vitriol aimed at perceived “liberal” slights. With this in mind, it’s too easy to write off the entire experience of having right-leaning voices on campus as a failure.
However, the solution to the acrimony surrounding the conservative versus liberal debates on campus is not eliminating the forum for one “side” entirely. The liberal and left-leaning majority on this campus needs a positive and constructive foil. Even for the most informed opinions, challenge in the form of respectful conversation can only make us stronger. Understanding multiple perspectives doesn’t necessitate agreeing with them. Instead, this knowledge allows us all –– again, regardless of political orientation — to achieve nuance in our firmly held beliefs and to frame our arguments in a way that we aren’t missing each other’s points entirely.
In addition to generally being a positive addition to on-campus culture, hearing these conservative perspectives will prepare many of us for the rest of our lives. As a student body which prides itself on its activism and dialogue, it’s difficult to justify isolating ourselves from the voices which permeate American and international politics. Saying that the vitriol and antagonism we see in the American political arena is “just how politics are these days” is a blatant cop-out –– we are politics these days. If we’ve learned anything on this campus, I hope it’s that politics are not an abstraction. The policies enacted by our governments have significant impacts on our daily existence, making the debates which precede them critical to our lives. Why would we, as students and citizens of a global community, stunt our own growth by refusing to engage with that with which we disagree? This behavior can only hurt us.
So, then, if we’ve eliminated the possibility of kicking the College Republicans to the curb and boycotting their existence, what’s next? Whose responsibility is it to reform an entire campus conversation? While so far I’ve predominantly –– and unfairly –– placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the College Republicans, in reality, the maintenance of healthy debate is the prerogative of the entire community, especially other politically active clubs on campus.
From the College Democrats to the various campus action groups to the students who remain unaffiliated with parties in American politics, whether as international voices or as independent voters, it’s imperative that our community steps up and accepts that the crisis facing the College Republicans belongs to all of us. This will require a consistent, conscious change on both sides of the aisle and all the political identities in between. What that looks like, I have no idea, but I believe that our campus has the know-how and the desire to make it work.