New publication offers conservative opinion on campus controversies

This summer, a group of students who see themselves as part of an ideological minority on campus began producing an alternative publication entitled the Swarthmore Independent. Members of the Independent’s staff, who say that they tend to approach campus and political issues from a conservative, libertarian, or moderate point of view, hope to fill what they perceive as a void on campus in ideological diversity and to question the Swarthmore status quo.

Late last spring, Editor-in-Chief Danielle Charette ’14, Publisher Tyler Becker ’14 and Savannah Saunders ’16 began discussing the possibility of an alternative publication. Over the summer, sophomores Nathaniel Frum and Joe Warren, who both contribute to the publication, independently contacted Charette, Becker, and Saunders, and the group banded together. In late August, the publication launched its website, and has since produced articles every few days and generated a great deal of online buzz (the Independent has repeatedly overloaded its server because of too many visitors to the site).

Charette said that the members of the Independent had a dual purpose: first, to alert campus that some of their peers held certain viewpoints, and secondly, to articulate these views in a coherent fashion. Additionally, the publication’s staff, Charette said, felt that on a left-leaning campus such as Swarthmore’s, their views would not be as well-received unless they created a new platform.

“All of us at some point have written for the Phoenix and the Daily Gazette,” Charette said. But the Independent provides a place where staff members can be part of a continuous group effort with both editorials and news reports, rather than writing articles occasionally as the only conservatives (or libertarians, or moderates) in an opinion section.

Instead, members have found it useful to provide coverage of campus events from their viewpoints, rather than only articulating opinionated commentary. Charette explained, “For us, if you have these views, where you’re libertarian or free market or whatever, you approach campus issues from a certain angle. So it’s actually more coherent to tackle a controversy where people on campus at first might not know what they think.”

Nat Frum ’16, who contributes to the Independent, said that he appreciated that the publication was focused on actual news coverage rather than simply on editorializing. “That’s one of the things I really liked when I went to the first meeting, that it was investigative reporting,” Frum said, “because that’s a really important aspect.”

So far, the Independent, which is exclusively online for now, has gained traction among students who range in ideological viewpoints from conservative to moderate.

Frum, who said he had received mixed responses to his articles, said that there has also been some positive feedback: “I engaged in some interesting dialogue with people I wouldn’t normally have talked to,” Frum said. He continued, “When you see that people are reading, regardless of what they’re saying, that’s good.”

Paige Willey ’16, who contributes reporting to the Independent, said that many students had been supportive of the publication’s work. “I’ve gotten a lot of people saying, ‘This is fantastic, I’m so glad you’ve started this, who’s behind this, this really reflects exactly what I was thinking’,” Willey recounted.

While there have been some negative responses, Charette said that this criticism was easier to take than if Independent staff members had been writing for another publication. “The nice thing is to have a group and have these be mutually written editorials, so that way it’s not one person who writes something and doesn’t know it’s controversial and ruins their social life. It’s a group effort,” Charette said.

Staff members believe there are multiple factors behind the publication’s burgeoning success.

Charette explained that the Independent’s coverage focuses on events on campus in which staff writers perceive problems pertaining to issues such as free speech or academic freedom. “We’re various shades of conservative, but I think the stories we’ve been focused on this semester with Title IX and free speech are not conservative issues per say,” Charette said. She believes that these issues are important to all students who care about the First Amendment. “I think that’s been opening people to our message and creating interesting cross-currents to our dialogue,” Charette said.

Becker agreed, and said that this type of coverage helped to advance one of the main goals of the publication: to help other students understand staff members’ viewpoints. Becker said that many Swarthmore students do not hold firmly-defined beliefs and are open to understanding these alternative viewpoints. “When we approach it from a certain direction, other students can be swayed or understand what we think,” Becker said, continuing, “That’s the main goal: to provide an outlook for how people who see First Amendment issues or other issues would see a campus issue.”

Staff members are currently working on producing a print issue, slated to be published at the end of the semester, which will cover overarching issues in higher education and contain literary pieces as well as columns which do not relate to campus issues, and are instead focused on issues such as foreign policy, economics and fashion. Charette said that this format was based in part on publications such as the Dartmouth Review and the Princeton Tory, in which right-leaning students have successfully implemented similar publications.

In its print issues, Becker hopes that the Independent will do more long-form investigative reporting on issues which have not received much coverage by other publications on campus. “There are things that happen on campus or in the administration or stuff where it’s important for there to be more investigation,” Becker said. He believes that the Independent is ideally positioned to achieve this goal, as it is neither a daily nor a weekly publication.

At the moment, the publication’s main obstacle is securing funding. Charette and Becker said they hoped the Collegiate Network, a loose alliance of alternative newspapers across the nation, would provide funds (the two, along with Saunders, attended a Collegiate Network conference in Washington, DC this summer), so that the publication will not have to rely on any school funding. Charette added that she hopes interested alumni will pay a few dollars per issue to help the publication to sustain its subscriber base.

In some ways, the publication represents a new solution to the old problem of being conservative at Swarthmore. “Probably the biggest reason I joined the Independent was that I felt there’s not an appreciation for diversity of ideologies or academic diversity,” said Willey. She said she saw this lack of ideological diversity manifest itself in students automatically labeling conservative speakers and articles as extremist.

Willey added that this was one of her greatest disappointments with Swarthmore so far, as she had expected that fellow students would understand the value of diversity of opinions in generating meaningful ideas and solutions. “The stigma of having a different viewpoint is ridiculous,” Willey said. “A lot of people here are of the opinion that even just associating yourself with the term “conservative” or “Republican” or even “capitalist”…is absolutely, unequivocally equated to being evil, hating minorities, and hating women,” she continued. But, Willey said, being conservative does not translate into being hateful, and she hopes that articles in the Independent will correct this viewpoint and put campus issues into perspective.

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