Recently, the Swarthmore Conservative Society was distributing materials belonging to the organization Turning Point USA, which is known for its documentation of professors with liberal values.
TPUSA is a youth group that promotes principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government on campuses across the country. The organization was the subject of controversy earlier in the year when students at Santa Clara University attempted to establish a campus chapter and were denied official status after a group of students vocalized their criticisms of the organization. According to an article in the Washington Times, the students in opposition attempted to link the organization to white nationalist groups, but they could not provide evidence when another student asked for reasoning.
President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society Gilbert Guerra ’19 doubted the validity of the students’ claims with regards to the organization.
“In my experience, [TPUSA has] been a pretty ethnically diverse group, so I don’t see where the whole white nationalism claim would be,” said Guerra.
TPUSA was also the subject of criticism when it launched its Professor Watchlist in November to monitor professors the organizations it believes promote anti-American values, according to an article in New York Magazine. As of then, the list included 197 names of professors whom the organization pegged as discriminatory against conservative students and whom the organization claims advocate “leftist propaganda” in the classroom.
Ben Stern ’20, the vice president of the Swarthmore Democrats, believes that the organization is not representative of SCS, but does not feel that the society should be exempt from criticism.
“I don’t think we shouldn’t be critical of Swat Conservatives for having any involvement with TPUSA, … but I don’t think it’s representative of them. I think that you can work with other organizations without endorsing their policies,” Stern said.
According to Guerra, SCS is partnered with Students For Liberty, Turning Point USA, the Leadership Institute, and the Foundation for Economic Education. He refrains from using the word “endorse” when describing the group’s partnerships with outside political organizations.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘endorse’ necessarily; it’s a different relationship than that. I think we share lots of common values … we’re not going to have a perfect overlap with their agendas and activities, but in terms of a general support for things like free market economics,” he said.
According to assistant dean and director for student engagement Rachel Head student groups choose to partner with external organizations on their own terms.
Guerra emphasized his goal for SCS to maintain some independence from the organizations.
“It’s always been important to me personally to maintain independence from those larger groups, so that we don’t necessarily have to answer for things they may do that we don’t agree with,” Guerra said.
According to Guerra, SCS receives promotional materials such as books and stickers from the organizations, but they do not actively engage with them. Rather, Guerra prefers to plan events and hire speakers independently.
“So far under my own reign, we haven’t brought in any speakers affiliated with [the organizations] … When I’m inviting speakers, I’m really looking for someone who can bring interesting and convincing arguments to Swat students in a way that Swat students will understand … I’m looking for someone who can actually make arguments that could reasonably sway someone in the middle or at least make them more open,” Guerra said.
In the fall, the American Enterprise Institute sponsored a talk by Charles Murray, a political scientist who has been accused of advocating a white nationalist ideology. Stern noted that AEI is separate from SCS and that it has an independent executive council on campus.
Other political groups on campus are not affiliated with outside organizations. The Swarthmore Democrats are independent and are not chartered or sponsored by outside groups.
“We choose to be independent partially because, at this school, a lot of people aren’t particularly fond of the Democratic party, and we want to be independent. We don’t want to be representative of the Democratic party,” Stern said.
Professor of political science Benjamin Berger urged students to think before questioning student political groups with regards to their connections to outside organizations.
“Suggesting that student political groups not connect with outside political organizations is a very slippery slope. Students should think twice, and then a third and fourth time, before descending it,” wrote Berger.