Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Monday, Nov. 27, Jorge Tello ’20 officially became President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society, succeeding outgoing President Gilbert Guerra ’19, who is studying abroad in the spring.
In succeeding Guerra, Tello is one of the Conservative Society Executive Board’s two new members, along with new Outreach Coordinator, Rebecca Sanders ’21. Incumbent members Dimitri Kondelis ’20 and Tobias Phillip ’20 will be staying on in their roles of Treasurer and Secretary, respectively.
Even with this turnover on the Executive Board, Tello hopes to stay the course and continue Guerra’s legacy.
“I really liked the vision that Gilbert set for us. You know, mutual cooperation with other groups on campus, a strong intent to be more open and more accepting of other ideologies, you know, stuff like that,” he said. “I think he also was pushing for more dialogue with people at [Swarthmore Democrats], which wasn’t the case with past presidencies.”
Under Guerra’s presidency, the Conservative Society engaged in a number of partnerships with the Swarthmore Democrats, including joint invitations to campus speakers and a collaborative get-out-the-vote campaign.
While most colleges have a College Republicans group on campus – that is, a group formally associated with the Republican Party – Swarthmore does not, something Tello sees as an asset.
“I definitely think that maintaining independence from political parties gives us a lot of options as to what do we want to endorse and what we’re going to represent,” he said. “Clubs on other college campuses often have to endorse a certain view.”
This independence often allows the Conservative Society to brand itself as a coalition group of moderates, conservatives, and libertarians. With such a broad coalition, balancing club goals and members’ interests can be a challenge. Seeing as though presidential candidates Gabby Pangelinan ’19 and Matthew Stein ’20, who ran on significantly more conservative platforms than Tello, dropped out of the race just before the election, Tello feels that members who share their views still need to be represented.
“My challenge now as President is, seeing as though the other two candidates dropped out, to still represent their views as President … and to represent all those different ideologies in a way they would want to be represented,” he said.
Tello hadn’t been planning on running for president until recently. In fact, he noted that he was hardly political before he came to Swarthmore.
“I hadn’t even given much thought to where my politics landed until I really felt the need to know exactly where I stood, which is what happened when I came here. I didn’t realize it was going to be such a politically charged environment,” he said.
As far as the political climate on Swarthmore’s campus goes, Tello said that the emergence of publications like the Swarthmore Independent and Swarthmore Voices has complicated campus politics.
“I think that when publications seem to have a strong affinity to a certain ideology, it leaves people with few options to express their views if they are less adherent to that ideology,” he said. “It doesn’t create a kind of environment where people can civilly voice their views.”
The subject of campus politics often evokes strong feelings on freedom of speech, and its relation to political discourse on college campuses. Many conservatives (and some liberals) in America decry what they see as the stifling of free speech on college campuses across the nation. Tello, however, feels the issue is exaggerated to an extent.
“As a conservative, strictly speaking from my point of view, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that my free speech was not being respected,” he said. “Of course, I know for a fact that there are individuals who don’t feel the same way … I think [Swarthmore] is doing a good job overall, though there is of course some element of [anti-free speech sentiment].”
Even with American campus politics as toxic as they are, Tello does see a way to return to a “normal” political climate.
“We need a strong concerted effort from all parties. I don’t think you can point to a single group or person and fault them for [not doing enough], but it’s going to take a collective effort,” he said.
As Tello eases into his role as President, students at Swarthmore can expect continued partnerships between Swarthmore Democrats and the Conservative Society. Tello hopes to eventually host an open table discussion at Sharples at some point in the future.
“We’d like to get to the point where we could host an open discussion where, quite literally, anyone could come and join us. It wouldn’t even have to be about politics,” he said. “But if it were to be about politics, it could be a place where you could have a nice conversation, where it’s not just shutting down the other person.”