Members of the newly formed Occidental College Republicans Club (OCRC) met for the first time March 20 with seven members in attendance. OCRC — which is the first Republican club on campus since 2008 — was formed to encourage political discourse including conservative viewpoints at Occidental, according to OCRC President and co-founder Alan Bliss (first year).
Bliss thought that reestablishing a politically conservative club on campus was necessary for students to grasp the nuanced and multifaceted nature of political debates.
“The point of my club is not to just attract a bunch of conservatively-minded people and just discuss conservative ideas, but to get both sides of the equation and to try to create an open-minded space where we are really hearing both points,” Bliss said.
Bliss said that students’ educational experience has been impaired for the past several years by not having a club or group on campus to address conservative ideas, which has left out a major stream of thought present in American political discourse today.
Bliss said he has also heard reservations about the state of political discourse and action on campus from conservative alumni.
“We have been getting calls from alumni saying that they are upset with the direction that Occidental is going in because it was more conservative at one point and they see all these movements, but no organizations besides the Jack Kemp Fund to donate to that support conservative ideas,” Bliss said.
As a conservative, Bliss said he has felt a lack of spaces on campus where he can express his political views without fear of being disparaged by more liberal students.
According to OCRC Treasurer Claire Strohm (sophomore), being a Republican on a liberal campus can often be challenging, and she hopes OCRC will bring together students who may feel alienated from Occidental’s political conversations due to their conservative beliefs.
“You walk onto Oxy’s campus and, if you are liberal, you are open to talk about political issues, but if you are conservative, you usually refrain from saying anything in class or to your peers because there is this kind of stigma against conservatives on campus. That’s why it is important to establish this club,” Strohm said. “It is a challenge being Republican on campus, and I think that the more people know that it is okay to accept that, then hopefully the better we can be.”
Strohm said she hopes that the club will be able to create conversations about diversity and inclusion within the Republican Party.
“One of the biggest things for me is that women are not largely represented in the GOP, a lot of different minority groups are not represented whatsoever, and I think that that is something in our club that we hope to address, and hope to create a discussion about that,” Strohm said.
Bliss said he recognizes that dialogue can be restricted because of the inherently personal nature of politics. He said he hopes that OCRC can create a space that is open to different views and mutual understanding between those who may not share the same ideology.
“Our club is going to try to extract that emotion and strictly talk politics, and I feel like in doing so we can delve deeper into the substance of what we are talking about, and in doing so hopefully attain a level of understanding that you would not attain in the classroom,” Bliss said.
Seth Miller (sophomore), member of Oxy Democrats and co-founder of PoliTalk, a political talk show new this year on CatAList TV, said that students should strive to understand political issues on a deeper level, rather than just trying to win debates, in order to expand political discourse.
“I think that the conversation is oftentimes limited because people are afraid to get into a really heated debate, but I don’t think that it is necessary that we have to ask for heated debate — our goal should be a greater understanding of the issues rather than trying to win an argument,” Miller said. “And that is something that I think sometimes Oxy students forget.”
Karim Sharif (sophomore), a self-identified far-left liberal, said he believes that OCRC should be included in the campus dialogue in order to challenge students’ opinions on campus and help move conversations forward.
“It is opinions we need to hear,” Sharif said. “Because if you disagree with something but you shut it out completely then you barely know what you are against, and you have no chance of reaching some form of agreement.”
Occidental Football Head Coach Doug Semones, who is serving as OCRC advisor, said that the club may face some challenges due to the liberal majority at Occidental.
“A lot of people don’t support the Republican platform, just like there are people on campus who don’t support the Democratic platform,” Semones said. “That is what college is, a lot of diversity.”
Bliss said that while some students may not be happy about the creation of a Republican club on campus given the current national political dialogue, he does not consider Republican to be a static term.
“We have the chance to really create our own definition to what we think ‘Republican’ means to us,” Bliss said. “So while some people might think it means Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or [Marco] Rubio, we can define it truly in an Occidental way.”
Sharif emphasized the importance of allowing the club to define its own identity without imposing preconceived stereotypes about political parties.
“I think that there are a lot of stereotypes which we assign to this binary of political discourse that not only need to be broken but also have the potential to be broken at a place like Oxy, where there are a lot of students who are conscious of different intersections of different identities and different rationalities behind different choices,” Sharif said.
Bliss said club meetings will be Sundays at 8:30 p.m.