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In modern day politics, nothing brings two people together more than discussing an issue they both intensely disagree on, yet can still grasp the amount of deliberating that still needs to be done. This has held true since the birth of the United States of America; the unity of different groups of people coming together to hash out what they see as the vision for the country. As time has progressed and the systems put in place have been put to the test, from the Civil War to the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Though, the country has never faced polarization such as we do today. Over the last six years of the Obama administration, we have seen Congress shut down the government, almost tank the economy, and stall on immigration reform all in the name of their political party.
These actions all play right into the narrative for the left, indicating that the Republicans have always put their party over their country, and in most cases, that characterization wouldn’t be wrong. And, while breaking down the history of party polarization and attributing it to the lack of action on one side could be done, this would do nothing for the overall political discourse that is necessary for us as a country to make progress on the issue plaguing our nation. The fact of the matter is that if we want to heal the great divide in our nation, it begins with us reaching out to those who may not share the same ideas as us, and must end in the same fashion.
The average citizen must open up their mind and ears to fulfill this duty, while also handing responsibility to those in the political community. During one of my own personal experiences, I took a trip down to Cornell University. I sat with the school affiliated organization Cornell Republicans, in an attempt to listen and see how those on the opposite end of the political spectrum experiences life on campus.
It is important to note that extreme party polarization, similar to what we are currently experiencing, tends to have the most devastating impact on more local and community levels. In these cases, college campus communities, organizations, and universities cautiously decide how they want to move forward with their students. Though, in the case with the Cornell Republicans, I learned that in the last year they have experienced a great deal of scrutiny from all ends of the political spectrum.
Sam Hodgson / The New York Times
During the 2016 election cycle, they announced that they were going to endorse Gary Johnson for president, and immediately faced scrutiny from top Republicans. In fact, they even received an email from the head of the Federation demanding that they rescind their endorsement. In addition to the heavy scrutiny, the Cornell Republicans for a short period were forced to change the name of their organization to avoid particular issues that arose with the endorsement of the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
The Cornell Republicans expressed their disheartening opinions in saying,
“The way in which the Federation handled our refusal to support President Trump speaks to a deep-seated divide that blights the Republican Party. Instead of respecting intrinsically American conservative principles of freedom of expression, the Federation blatantly bowed to party line conformity and made it evident that it cared little about dissenting voices within the party itself.”
Not only did the members of the Cornell Republicans have to go through the exhausting process of temporarily changing their names due to their refusal to support the Republican nominee Donald Trump, but they also didn’t have the backing of their federation. This caused temporary turmoil and arguing within the party that put their organization and party to the test. Nevertheless, the Cornell Republicans have pressing issues that go far beyond dealing with the more liberal-leaning campus of Cornell, and this was just one aspect of how they run their organization.
In particular, one of their primary goals is to offer an excellent networking outlet for students looking to maximize both they’re on campus involvement and professional development. In fact, they spend a good portion of their time in meetings and open forums discussing how they can further better themselves and even look to invite more people to campus to contribute to the overall discourse. These are examples of some things that tend to get lost in the shuffle due to the negative rhetoric that can sometimes become associated with Republicans in general.
Omar Abdul Rahim / The Cornell Daily Sun Staff Photographer
For many students, The Cornell Republicans offer “a venue to share conservative dispositions openly and freely within a community of peers, many of whom share similar values.” This kind of discourse is not limited to those within the organization, as the group has hosted several “open forum debates with the Cornell Democrats, along with several philanthropy functions, including care package collection drives for deployed servicemen and women.” While there is something to be said when it comes to the Cornell Republicans actively seeking to engage with the campus community, many people on campus have become wary of how the organization chooses to run individual events.
Cornell has always been a predominantly liberal university at both a faculty and student level, and because of this, Cornell Republicans have to deal with the reality that their views will be universally rejected on campus. Most of the members have been trained to handle these harsh rebuttals either through experience with being on campus or through the program itself. However, It leaves most of the members and the organization as a whole feeling unheard, misunderstood, and disheartened, to say the least.
Typically every year, the organization brings in speakers to discuss conservative opinions and opens up a conversation on campus with those who do not align politically with the university’s heavy left-leaning campus. I spoke with multiple members about how this process works, and yet mostly asked how the majority of students on campus react to their events, and how that affected them as students of Cornell.
Michael Wenye Li / The Cornell Daily Sun Staff Photographer
Most were not encouraged by the responses they received, with some saying, “we have indeed been cast an unfavorable light by many progressive student outlets who have levied charges of promoting ‘hate speech’ on campus.” When I asked them about their last event with Rick Santorum, they told me, “Mr. Santorum’s statement was met with considerable resistance, including student hecklers in the audience who repeatedly interrupted the speaker at various points throughout the speech.”
As I listened to members of the Cornell Republicans discuss these issues with me, it was an eye-opening and productive experience. On the most basic level of discourse, most members were committed to providing a safe and diverse forum for conversation. Sometimes in discussions we had, we would come to agreements or at least a middle ground on most topics; but this was not their experience with a majority of students on campus. Some even lashed out and sarcastically stated that “this is the type of ‘open’ discussion the left-leaning student body wants, none if it doesn’t align with their thinking.” While this isn’t the sentiment of the organization as a whole, it’s hard to rid of the feeling of being disregarded in relevant and timely political discussions.
In a sit down I had with the president, Olivia Corn, she described the whole ordeal as
“disheartening because it does not categorize the majority of the progressive student body, many of whom are engaged in constructive discourse and expressed solidarity in the commitment to bring ideological diversity to campus.”
She, along with the rest of the members, shared their sentiment and plan for a mission, to continue opening up the conservation for those all across the political spectrum.
Observing how the Republicans chose to handle their events, as well as their members, was fascinating. They were always friendly yet stern with how they spoke when addressing different people, whether it was faculty, a student, or an unfamiliar face such as me. The language they used when sending students and individuals to events, was one that was geared towards a mature crowd; it was clear they were trying to create an environment of severe open discourse. For some, this can be intimidating, but for those in the Cornell Republicans, it was routine. Recently, they have tailored their goals by contributing to the betterment of the world through various charity events and service projects. The president saw this as a necessary step towards changing their image on campus and healing a divide that has plagued not just the campus, but also our country. She ended our encounter by telling me, “There’s always a seat at our table.”
During my visits to the Cornell Republicans and the large campus that is Cornell University, you get to see a diverse group of people. Within these different groups, people on the political spectrum ranged from far-right to far-left. While most people had differences of opinion regarding many of the issues that I would bring up to them, all of the students had one thing in common; they wanted what was best for the Cornell student body. With all of this in mind, it’s important to realize that even with all the negative rhetoric surrounding Republicans on Cornell’s campus, one thing has been made clear. They should have a seat at the table, just like anyone else. The Cornell Republicans have found a way to organize themselves while making a positive impact on their community, and while they’ve hit some bumps in the roads, they have shown all the signs of a thriving community with a clear mission; broadening the campus minds on discourse and free speech.
Rutgers Student studying Political Science & Government with a minor in Journalism who has an interest in the intersection of journalism and political movements.