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College conservatives and democrats emphasize activism and collaboration

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Amidst the first year of a controversial presidency with near-constant political turmoil, campus political groups such as the Swarthmore Conservatives and the Swarthmore Democrats are looking for ways to expand their outreach and build upon the progress they made last year.

The values of each club, while rooted at different points on the political spectrum, are currently leading to increased activism, and both clubs look forward to joining together for projects.

Swat Conservatives aims to promote free speech on college campuses. According to president Gilbert Guerra ’19, the club is a place where Trump supporters can share their ideas without feeling personally attacked but where they will still be challenged.

“It would be a challenge of their ideas, not their own personal merits,” he added.

Guerra explained that in past years, the goal of the club was to build a core base of about thirty participating members. The group was previously called the Swarthmore Republicans, with a base mostly consisting of moderate Republicans, but then it shifted to a general conservative society mostly comprised of socially conservative Catholic students and focused on socially supporting students with conservative ideologies. After that, more libertarian students joined, and now there are wide range of conservative-minded students, including an executive board whose members voted for Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson, or write-in candidates. Some chose to protest by not voting at all.

“There’s certainly a lot of debate within the group,” Guerra said, but the group is still unified in terms of how [they] act and treat each other.

Now, Guerra and other members of the club say they are looking toward more activism on campus, which includes bringing in non-controversial speakers who will bring intellectual, not inflammatory, discussion.

The club also has partnerships with organizations such as the Leadership Institute, a political nonprofit with conservative leanings. As stated by the organization’s website, its goal is to train conservative activists and students to “fight the left and win.” Other partnerships include the American Enterprise Institute, which Guerra hopes will bring “more dynamic speakers to campus and present alternative opinions,” as well as Turning Point USA.

TPUSA is, according to their website, a student movement for free markets and limited government. As the Phoenix covered in April, TPUSA has been the subject of national controversies. However, according to Guerra, the relationship with TPUSA is not monetary. The organization sends materials for students to express their political opinions but does not fund Swat Conservatives.

As for Swat Dems, activism is rooted not just on campus, but also in the Swarthmore community.

President Taylor Morgan ’19 noted that since the election, many members of the group are looking at more action-oriented strategies to engage their community. She noted that while the name Swarthmore Democrats evokes the idea of a politically moderate group, there is a variety of political ideology within its ranks, ranging from far-left to moderately left-leaning, to even some right-of-center members.

“What unites all of us is that we want to seek strategies that lift people up and raise up voices, particularly the people who have been silenced,” Morgan said.

Swat Dems is not affiliated with the Democratic Party at the state or national level, which allows the club to diverge from of the mainstream Democratic Party.

“We have the ability to stray from the platform and hold the national and state party accountable for things that we see as being necessary to be advocated for or spoken out about,” Morgan said.

In addition, this allows the club to take stances that are controversial or debated and that are radically different from most other Democratic groups. One example of this is on issues of Israel and Palestine.

“[The club has] explicitly [rejected] the Israeli government occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is pretty much something that you will never hear any Democrats say,” Swat Dems Vice President Ben Stern ’20 said.

The group is also looking for ways to actively participate in political events, such as registering voters for Pennsylvania elections, hosting flash phone banks, or bringing in speakers who might challenge the group.

Morgan stressed the importance of understanding “uncomfortable truths about what Democrats have done and meant to a lot of people” as well how college Democrat groups can improve.

The two organizations have made the effort to collaborate this semester, including hosting Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to speak about free speech.  Swat Dems also discussed working in a bipartisan manner to fight gerrymandering and participate in local elections at their meeting on Sept. 26.

“We’re doing a lot more things that involve outreach to other groups on campus. This year, we’re hosting a lot of events with the Swarthmore Conservative Society, which I think is great. We’ve been able to have a lot of good bipartisan dialogue with them,” said Stern.

According to Stern, the two groups are working with other on-campus groups such as i20, the Swarthmore international club, and Deshi, the South Asian student organization on campus, for a disaster relief event.

Both presidents also said that they want their clubs to create beneficial change.

“[We want to] engage with and lift up members of the community, particularly the most unheard,” said Morgan.

Guerra also wants his group to be a constructive force.

“[Swat Conservatives is] trying to focus more on the positive things that we can change and ways that we can make the Swarthmore community a better place instead of just trying to tear it down,” Guerra said.

For these two clubs, activism can mean working together in a bipartisan way and having a discussion of political differences despite an increasingly divisive political climate nationwide.

Groups work with Swarthmore Conservatives

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CORRECTION: The title of this news article previously read “Lobbying groups work with Swarthmore Conservatives.” “Lobbying” has been removed to more accurately reflect the content of the article.

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.

 

Charles Murray, labeled by SPLC a White Supremacist, Coming to Campus

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The Swarthmore Conservative Society, in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute on campus, has invited controversial academic Charles Murray to speak about the results of the 2016 presidential election in relation to his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010”. As a result, various students and groups on campus have condemned the event.

Murray, who co-authored “The Bell Curve” with Richard Herrnstein, received widespread criticism from both the media and academia for his book discussing the relationship between IQ, class, race, and economic success. In particular, the majority of criticisms stemmed from Murray’s discussion of racial differences in intelligence and subsequent policy implications that involve the government’s severe cutback of welfare expenditures, end of affirmative action, and enactment of more restrictive immigration policies. Advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center classify Murray as a white nationalist.

According to the SPLC’s website, Murray uses “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women, and the poor.”

Various students and groups have condemned Murray’s views while some still see the event as an opportunity to engage with opposing ideologies.

“I find it extremely irresponsible, insensitive, and shameful that Swat Conservatives planned to have such a speaker visit campus after this election. It is crucial at times to have a diverse set of opinions to events, however this man does not represent just a ‘diverse set of opinions’. This man has been echoing the similar hate speech that Donald Trump has been doing this entire election. This will not bring intellectual value, it will only reflect the horror that this election has brought upon us and even worsen it,” said Valeria F. Ochoa, president of Swarthmore Organization for Low Income Students or SOLIS.

Zain Talukdar ’19 shared his concern that Murray’s views empower the continuation of institutional racism and other systems of oppression.

“While I am not aware of the full genetic makeup and biological points that make up his argument, I think that talking about IQ when discussing systems of racism and discrimination is a dangerous red herring that can divert societal attention away from what establishes and normalizes systems of oppression and institutionalized racism through poverty, income gaps, and a trickle-down economic system,” he said.

Talukdar said that such thinking can lead to problematic conclusions.

“It can allow those who are in the more affluent and beneficial side of a system of oppression to justify the circumstances in question as a genetic issue, whether entirely or significantly, and can perpetuate a social Darwin-esque form of racial superiority that will do absolutely nothing to promote equity for colored people.”

Aamia Malik ’18, one of the co-presidents of DESHI, the college’s South Asian identity group, still remained open to Murray’s event in order to create a discussion.

“The idea of scientific racism is indeed an extremely controversial idea, one I personally have trouble believing has any real “scientific” basis. It seems to be nothing more than an attempt to justify racist and xenophobic ideas,” she said. “That being said, I think it is really important to engage in discussions with folks who have opinions other than our own so I think it’s good that he is coming to campus and I hope that those who attend can engage in a constructive conversation.”

In the initial organization of the event, Patrick Holland ‘17, the head of Swarthmore Conservative Society and organizer of the event, explained that he met with a student in Swarthmore Democrats who agreed to co-sponsor the talk. By Tuesday, Swarthmore Democrats had pulled their sponsorship of the event on the Facebook event page. However, according to Maggie Christ ‘17, a current board member of the group and past president of Swarthmore Democrats, the group was never an official co-sponsor or involved in organizing the talk.

Holland explained his reasons for inviting Murray when AEI offered to have the speaker come to campus.

“When I was told he was interested in visiting Swarthmore, of course I jumped on the opportunity because I think it’s important for students to be exposed to the ideas that shaped our nation’s politics and history, even if they disagree with them. Murray is an important contributor to academic discourse, and his voice is necessary to have a robust discussion of life in America today. Murray’s work isn’t some outlier that people can ignore, it’s central to debates that we have in classes even here at Swarthmore,” Holland said.

With regard to whether Holland thinks that Murray’s views accurately represent conservative thought and ideologies, Holland remarked that Murray does not claim to be a conservative. He later went on to acknowledge that, even if Murray identified as a conservative, conservatism is composed of several diverse ideologies.

“Many conservatives would disagree if Murray claimed his ideas were essential to conservatism. There are many well made conservative critiques of Murray that aren’t too hard to find, but let’s be realistic. I highly doubt Murray would ever claim to speak on behalf of the conservative movement in the first place,” he remarked.

However, the American Enterprise Institute is a self-identifying conservative public policy think tank, and Murray has been an AEI scholar since 1990. Murray also authored a book titled “What It Means to Be a Libertarian”, published in 1996.

Dean of Students Liz Braun explained that the college has no explicit policy on what speakers can come to campus, and encourages the community to engage with differing opinions.

“At times, there may be a speaker invited to campus that some members of our community may not agree with, and in some cases, may even find their viewpoint abhorrent or offensive,” said Braun.

“In those instances, we encourage the community to engage in more speech, to bring in differing opinions, and in some cases, community members may choose to engage in peaceful dissent as is outlined in our student handbook.”

As of now, the administration has scheduled a faculty panel after the event. The details of who will be on the panel and what will be discussed have not been determined yet.

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