Rebranding the Elephant in the Room

Rebranding the Elephant in the Room

Danny Harris

Would I have worn a College Republicans t-shirt prior to this semester? Hell no. In my estimation, this would be the response of about all but maybe twenty people that go to Vanderbilt.

If you asked about a College Democrats shirt, the number of people that answer affirmatively might be marginally higher since liberalism is the prevailing ideology on campus. According to a VPR study, “less than one-third of Vanderbilt students self-identified as conservative, and of those who did, most expressed relatively moderate views compared to conservatives nationwide.” However, regardless of ideology, many Vanderbilt students feel it taboo to discuss politics as it most often leads to a divisive conversation.

As a representative of Vanderbilt College Republicans, we are systematically attempting to change the culture of politics on campus by first re-shaping our image. Most people that value friendships tend to avoid politics for good reason. But, it hasn’t always been like this. Politics, in the past, focused on less personal issues. Those big issues have now morphed into a toxic monstrosity. We plan to evolve it so that conservatism is not disregarded as anachronistic on campus by our liberal peers and also offer a safe space for Republicans to have a voice. With the sources of this ill will identified, we must plan to respond collectively, while encouraging students to become more politically informed.

The problem – people hate the estrangement that stems from current political issues. I’m a political science major, and I even hate politics. The culture that it promotes simply isn’t healthy when it comes to bringing students together. Most students that are willing to engage in a political dialogue on campus are already obstinately stuck in their beliefs. Contrary to the perception, conservative values encompass more than just immature proclamations about traditional American values.

The political dialogue must also include the politicians in our government, many of whom are morally bankrupt in their personal lives. Look no further than our president, the current mayor of Nashville, Roy Moore, and Al Franken for evidence of infidelity or sexual abuse. That’s just scratching the surface of apparent degeneracy in the upper echelons of politics. Stories of backroom deals, bribes, and collusion are ceaselessly at the top of the news.

While there is no reason to involve oneself with this schismatic culture, it is important to be informed and vocal about what you believe in, especially with a liberal arts education. Freedom of expression is a right that we should not take lightly. If you attended any MLK day events on campus a few weeks ago, you would know this fact as the themes revolved around freedom of speech. For instance, one such event that I attended dealt with freedom of expression without suppression. The event centered around the idea of a welcome table, an area at which all feel comfortable sharing their beliefs and abiding in peace, not alienation.

Without the willingness to step out of comfort zones to voice meaningful beliefs, we would never affect positive social change. So, to Republicans and Democrats, let’s figure out a way to revamp our system and get past the partisan problems that so estrange us from one another.

The problem is that people hate the current political culture, but as mentioned, this culture has not always been as it is now. The issues formerly keyed in on government expansion, taxes, and collective bargaining and have moved on to LBGTQ+ rights, abortion, and race – all intensely personal issues that should not directly relate to partisanship. This type of identity politics divides and polarizes people across the country. Alienation and division are evidently negative. On the other hand, socialization of these identity issues has brought empowerment to those long silenced. How do we adapt and get past these issues, while still asserting their essentiality?

Unfortunately, we seclude ourselves in echo chambers with masses of like-minded people that tell us to hate the other side agreeing to only have conversations with those in our circles. If we can step out of those comfort zones a bit and extend an olive branch to our peers, we can get past the issues to see each other as real people. There’s no reason why we can’t familiarize ourselves with dissimilar ideologies at the same time.

College Republicans hopes to promote these conversations. We want to be seen as a club that can discuss and debate political and social issues with definitive thoughtfulness.

I know that many students that fall on the right side of the political spectrum feel politically marginalized, equated with racism and bigotry. You do not appreciate the snide and dismissive blanket statements made by your peers and professors. You get the feeling that they think you’re a racist and a bigot. Usually, they say it directly to your face. This shaming is a part of the problem, which continues to force conservatives underground into silence, making conversation impossible.

Of course, this happens on both sides. A progressive student belonging to a predominantly conservative family has an identical experience at family gatherings, listening to their closed-minded relatives drone on about those “stupid libs.” However, for the purposes of this article, we are focusing on Vanderbilt. VCR wants all those that lean right on campus to feel comfortable being affiliated with us and to feel safe expressing their opinions without being demonized.

This article would not be necessary if Vanderbilt College Republicans were already a thriving club going into this semester. The truth of the matter is that its history has been plagued by inadequate organization and lack of events. Its scant visibility and the outspokenness of an unrepresentative, careless few have allowed the image of VCR and Republicans on campus to slump into extreme disrepute. We are trying to change that.

Our first step in these efforts to start a reasonable dialogue will be February 7. Former libertarian presidential candidate and current Missouri senatorial candidate, Austin Peterson, will be speaking at 7:00PM at the Student Life Center, and I particularly hope to see those who disagree with this article there. We have further plans to present more events with well-renowned speakers as the year progresses, including a social mixer with Vanderbilt College Democrats.

With these efforts, we hope to have normal interactions with regular people, which will promote freedom of expression and tolerance. Do you remember that College Republicans shirt? VCR hopes you will be proud to wear one.