We would like to respond to the implications in the DP Editorial that seemed to suggest that our organization, Penn Democrats, is complicit in conservatives on campus being “ostracized by the larger group of liberals,” has hastened our school “becoming an echo chamber,” and that our generic “actions” are fostering this oppressive anti-conservative culture. As a disclaimer, we think that the article brings up interesting points and we do not disagree with everything that was written. We also encourage conservative students to engage in the political dialogue on campus through the numerous student organizations that already exist and through other outlets as well. However, we believe that the editorial bases its premise on dubious evidence and misrepresents the work that we and other liberal organizations on campus do.
We reject the notion that fostering an inclusive dialogue necessitates disadvantaging conservative voices. For too long, the political dialogue in this country has failed to adequately represent marginalized groups, and Donald Trump’s candidacy is attempting to continue this trend. To pretend that there is a way to support him without supporting his racism, xenophobia, and sexism is not only disingenuous, it lifts that bigotry into the mainstream. If in any small way our organization has helped to combat this, then we are doing our job.
In addition to the obvious problems with offering an outlet for Trump’s bigotry, we also question the evidence presented in the editorial. The entire piece is based on a single poll of College Republicans that states that 40% of their membership supports Donald Trump. While we agree that this number is surprisingly high, it does not really tell us anything significant about Penn’s campus without further context. For example: How many students participated in this sample, and how can we be certain that they are representative of the views of all conservatives on campus?
Let’s assume that this poll does indeed accurately portray conservatives on campus. On what grounds does the DP Editorial Board assume that “conservative students do not voice their opinions out of fear of being shot down or even ostracized by the larger groups of liberals”? Was that a follow-up question attached to the poll, or was it just baseless speculation in the name of free speech? Without any sort of clarification about this in the editorial, the credibility of its thesis is questionable at best.
This is no small point because it ties back to some of the insinuations about liberal students on campus that undergirded the editorial. Instead of the vague reference to our actions, let’s talk specifically about what our organization does and let the Penn community decide if we are oppressing voices that are different than our own. Since we cannot speak for the myriad of liberal organizations on campus, we will only delineate the work that Penn Democrats has done and is excited to continue over the course of this semester.
First of all, our organization is open to everyone. There is no application, and you can be a registered Republican and still join. We host speaker events, from issue-based panels where you can learn about the evolution of voting rights or lead in Philadelphia’s water supply to prominent figures such as former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers or a forum for the Democrats who ran in the 2nd Congressional District primary. We encourage everyone to attend these events, to ask questions of our guests, and to stay afterwards to critically engage with our board and members.
Yes, we get involved in politics. We host regular, nonpartisan voter registration drives where we will register everyone no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or none of the above. Last spring, before the Pennsylvania primary, we registered over 400 Penn students to vote – our volunteers devote hours upon hours to helping ensure that Penn students have their voices heard in the political process. We also endorse candidates and advocate on the behalf of candidates that we believe in, which take place after deliberations among our membership, as well as frequent polls to understand the sentiments of our deputy board.
We will not apologize or equivocate for the fact that we are loud, passionate liberals who believe in inclusion, equality, and that our country’s best days are ahead. On this campus, that means we still have significant work to do in regards to sexual assault, expanding opportunities for all (beyond just diversity for diversity’s sake), and support for low-income communities in Philadelphia. The last thing we need right now is a campus that offers tacit support to a bigoted demagogue.