February 28, 2017
On January 20, the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, was inaugurated in front of a divided nation. To some, the new President brought promise and hope for the destruction of the political status quo that would “make America great again.” To others, the new administration brought fears and despair for tough times ahead, particularly to those who benefited from progressive social policies under the Obama Administration. In the past month, millennials specifically have come out divided about how they feel about the state of our nation. Many millennials, from liberals to conservatives, have fears they will lose healthcare under an impending Affordable Care Act repeal, lose reproductive healthcare and rights, lose their rights as LGB+ or Transgender individuals, lose access to deserved civil rights, etc. Some have feared the destruction of free speech and adequate political discourse between parties through actions of the left. Liberals and conservatives have found themselves both afraid of judgment, and fearful of their lives for two separate reasons.
Campuses throughout the country have become political battlegrounds focusing on issues such as what constitutes free speech or campus political organizations should be doing more or less to advocate for their party agendas. On Ursinus’s campus, most parties and belief structures have representation, whether organized or not, but the general student body is most aware of the College Democrats, College Republicans, and Young Libertarians. The campus atmosphere through the eyes of these organizations and the rest of the student population has felt the bumpy ride of the politically charged roller coaster.
Skye Gailing ’17 of the Ursinus College Democrats explained, “I was part of the effort to bring back College Dems last semester, but after the election happened, [our group] kind of lost our morale.” She noted that many students, including herself, became emotionally drained and ended up focusing on other tasks and organizations. However, she noted that individually, she noticed people becoming angry as the weeks went on, partaking in political, but peaceful protests on campus to face those who had found a voice in Trump’s agenda. “The week after the election results came in, I participated in a protest and [Professor] Ellen Dawley yielded the podium to us at the faculty meeting,” described Gailing.
In agreement, President of the Young Americans for Liberty, Tom Carey ’18, finds the protests on campus that Gailing described, while occasionally heated, have been an excellent representation of free speech among the student body. YAL, the newest political organization on campus and possibly most active, holds almost weekly discussions and activism on topics from the war on drugs to national debt, focusing on provocative and multi-perspective discourse. Said Carey,
“YAL pursues a culture within our chapter [and on campus] that welcomes many different perspectives… I believe that it is a great thing that [students] can protest here on campus and have a discussion out in the open. It is important for us to maintain our rights to speech and protest, and to engage with others that we disagree with.”
The campus has within the past few years especially gained acknowledgement for particularly provocative speakers they have openly hosted through departments and campus programs such as the Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good, the Politics and International Relations Department, Sankofa Umoja Nia (SUN) and Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), to name a few.
The College Republicans have received a wide range of feedback within the past year through articles in the student-run Grizzly, but they too have seen the positives in political activism on campus. Robert Rein ’17, President of the UC Student Government and Vice President of the College Republicans, noted that their mailing list and network have expanded but they have seen a dwindling in their annual meeting attendance and overall voice on campus. However, that has not stopped the College Republicans as a group and individually from participating in the political climate. “As an individual, I feel even more compelled to become politically involved,” said Rein. “I have found myself engaging more in politics through social media, keeping up to date through news and wanting to engage my fellow students in political discourse.” In terms of the campus’s general atmosphere, Rein specified that he has noticed that while campus has cooled down overall, there is a clear divide on campus regarding who does and does not support the new President. He is encouraged, though, by the extensive political activism and engagement and sees it as hope for the future of the country.
All three students noted that they hope that alumni see that the students truly care about the political nature of campus, the care and self-care of other students and that they appreciate the outreach they have received from alumni. Rein explained that the campus student and alumni networking system has aided in bringing speakers to campus relevant to topics being brought up through the current administration. Gailing and others expressed that they would love to see more GOLD alumni participate in rallies on campus as well as come to speak about various topics, such as running for an elected position, or about political topics not often formally discussed, such as national debt, women’s reproductive rights, education policy and other issues. To many students, the political fire is still being fueled and it is unlikely to be extinguished.
- Emily Cooper