RIZELLE ROSALES; Mast Magazine Editor; rosalera@plu.edu

The Pacific Lutheran University chapter of College Republicans is a student group that is dedicated to sustaining and advancing conservative values through active discussion, inquiry and engagement with local government.

College campuses across the nation are struggling to represent student conservative voices and host respectful dialogue. Two first-year students took action in January 2016 to revive the PLU College Republicans chapter after five years of dormancy. Sophomore Shelby Coates, co-president of the chapter, noticed that conservative sentiments are often brushed under the rug in left-leaning classrooms like those at PLU. “We thought, you know, that it would be great to talk to someone about that,” Coates explained.

PLU College Republicans pizza party. Photo courtesy of PLU College Republicans.

Coates partnered with sophomore Taylor Rost to restart the organization by rewriting its constitution and receiving approval from both PLU and the Washington State College Republicans Board.  Vice President and junior Samuel Manders caught wind of the revival by word-of-mouth, and was determined to support its members and its growth.

After assembling a strong team, the group became active in hosting weekly meetings and getting involved with local campaigns. Members actively campaigned for Republican candidates Rick Thomas and Jessica Garcia to represent District 29.

A common misconception about PLU College Republicans is that it’s only a space for conservative voices. “We open it to anyone who wants to come,” Coates explained. Meetings are often attended by a sprinkling of liberal students who are looking to hear the other side. To Coates, this diversity helps avoid echo chambers and facilitates constructive political dialogue.

“The conversation is always very respectful,” Manders commented. “Everything I’ve ever heard in a meeting has always been a piece of valuable information in my opinion.”

Amanda Delekta, a student at University of Michigan, spoke to New York Times reporter Anemona Hartocollis in an article addressing political tension on campus, especially the experience of student conservatives. “There’s this binary between ‘us’ and ‘them’… [but] we’re all so much more complex than that. There needs to be a mutual respect among us,” said Delekta, commenting on left-leaning biases in her classes and discussions on campus.

“We’ve never lost sight of the person we’re talking to, we never let the ideology get in the way.”- Sophomore Shelby Coates

Though conservatives face challenges, some conservative students argue that opposition improves rhetoric skills and enriches perspective. PLU junior Carly Stauffer can agree. Stauffer is an active member of Students for Life, the pro-life organization on campus. “In the past few years at PLU, I’ve been challenged by my surroundings,” Stauffer explained.  “I’ve come to a place of being conservative after asking myself a lot of questions, so I’m not just adopting being Christian and conservative by default.”

“I’ve tried to do more listening than anything,” Stauffer continues. She is a strong advocate for personal exploration when it comes to ideology. “We just see so much pigeon-holing, assuming that everyone fits into one box.” Stauffer described an instance at a Students for Life display where someone approached her and said they disagree, because of her viewpoint on refugees. “We hadn’t even said anything to them — like they immediately thought, ‘Pro-life? Conservative jerk.’ They didn’t stop to think that we might have the same viewpoints on refugees.”

Senior Philip Passantino, president of Students for Life, explained that there are pro-life students who aren’t conservative. Because of the ideological diversity in the group, he is hopeful for the future of the movement. “If the movement becomes less

attached to ideology, I honestly think it would be better for the country, because it would be less of a partisan battle,” Passantino explained.

A documentary produced by We the Internet titled “Silence U” describes the national phenomena of silencing nonconforming views on college campuses as opposed to engaging in discussion and conversation.

“One of the main goals of the club is just to have that political dialogue that seems to be missing a lot of the time on university campuses, just because of how heated a topic can get,” Coates said. Though there are disagreements during discussions, Coates explained that “we’ve never lost sight of the person we’re talking to, we never let the ideology get in the way.”

Manders is hopeful for the future of PLU College Republicans. “In two to five years, ideally, it would be cool to have on-campus debates,” said Manders, hoping to engage with future Young Democratic Socialists and others on campus. Coates also hopes to do joint informational events and forums, aiming to educate students on different ideologies. Coates and Manders want conservatives on campus to know that they’re not alone, and their voice is valuable. “Don’t be afraid to speak up in class,” Coates advises. “It helps everyone to hear both sides.”

“To all the conservatives out there on campus,” Manders adds, “There’s more of us than you think.” ◼︎

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