Author: Chloe Jenkins-Sleczkowski
After a dwindling presence on campus, the Republican club ceased to exist two years ago and has not been restarted, to the dismay of several students and faculty.
Devon Puglia ’08, a registered Democrat, was the President of the Republican club from ’06 – ’08. He said, “[The club] was very small and informal during my time, and by my senior year it was just me.”
He described Oxy professors and students being hostile to political opinion that didn’t conform to the school’s prevailing liberal ideology. “I’m sure there are plenty of people who would want to take centrist, or center-right, or conservative positions in classroom discussions, but simply can’t because doing so exposes you to overwhelming criticism, both intellectually and personally.”
Puglia said he joined and ran the club because he believed there needed to be a diversity of political opinion at the school. “The Republicans club was less about promoting conservative ideas and more about freedom of thought.”
Professor Roger Boesche of the Politics Department, who is the faculty adviser for both the College Democrats and the former College Republicans, feels that this absence has negatively affected student politics at Oxy. “I think the atmosphere on campus has suffered from not having a club, and from not having at least a few speakers every year, who, on different issues, would put forth an intelligent conservative argument,” Boesche said.
In the past, the Occidental College Republicans brought conservative speakers to campus. Boesche believes that a broad spectrum of opinions is necessary to facilitate meaningful debates and encourage both sides to consider their beliefs. “I think it’s healthy if you’ve got debate going on, I think people don’t learn as much if they don’t have to deal with good arguments made by an opposing side,” he said.
Issues arise when Republican students find themselves surrounded by Oxy’s vocal liberals. “I would say less than 10 percent of the students here would identify themselves as right of center,” said Katie Moriarty (first-year), who identifies herself as a conservative Libertarian.
“[Discussions are] one-sided and not very open-minded, although people think they’re very open-minded,” said a republican Oxy student who requested anonymity. “If someone brings up an alternate belief that is against the mindset of this campus, they’re labeled very quickly as being a villain and are verbally attacked.”
But at a liberal arts college in the heart of Los Angeles, many think that it is hard to move past the assumption that everyone on campus is liberal. “We are a small, politically active campus in the heart of Los Angeles – a community that, for all of our talk of unquestionable diversity, works under a certain assumption of ‘liberalness,'” said Democrat Alex Manthei (senior). “It comes with the territory.”
Boesche believes that it’s the responsibility of both Republican and Democratic students to keep themselves informed and support their arguments. “Anybody who holds a position ought to have evidence,” he said. “If you want to hold a position on a public policy issue, you should have some evidence to support your claim so that you should be able to give an answer to someone who differs, someone who might be blindly supporting Obama because it’s the thing to do.”
Moriarty echoed this advice for Republicans. She pointed out that the best way for Republicans to respond to Oxy’s overwhelming liberality is to not fit the conservative stereotypes they are given. “Know your stuff, don’t make blanket statements you can’t support with statistics, numbers and reputable sources,” she said.
The Oxy Democrats feel their group’s responsibility is to keep an open mind and invite differing opinions. “Oxy Democrats encourage political dialogue of all types and we welcome a vigorous debate,” said Occidental College Democrats President Derek Mazzeo (junior). “Should Republicans ever decide to participate and contribute something to the passionate debate going on this campus, we welcome their voice,” he added.
Both sides of the political spectrum seem to agree that the best solution is to approach differing opinions with openness and respect, focusing not on winning a debate but on learning from the discourse. “You want to be able to add more nuances to your argument and having conversations with student of different opinions is a mutually beneficial breeding ground for fine-tuning one’s beliefs,” said Democrat Sky Mangin (junior).
Many view college as an important stage in the development of ideas and opinions, especially political ones. “I think that we grow up in our parents’ homes, and we generally do adopt their political opinions,” said Boesche. He emphasized that college is a unique opportunity to engage in real discussion, rather than petty attacks. “[College is] time to decide on things for oneself, and that requires a lot of reading, and thinking and discussing, so attacking and poking fun at and making snarly remarks is not very good, but discussing is good, and even disagreeing,” said Boesche.
“Perhaps all this opposition can breed a stronger generation of conservatives better equipped to repair the battered image of the Republican Party,” said Moriarty. “If you can maintain your viewpoint and perhaps build understanding here when you’re outnumbered, imagine the possibilities in a nation split down the middle.”
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