2016 presidential election sparks fresh discussion of political climate on campus

Garrett Barlow

Staff Writer

As candidates on the national stage prepare for the 2016 elections, citizens all over the country, including Davidson students, have begun to engage in more political thinking. The College Republicans, College Democrats, and College Libertarians are all actively voicing their opinions, and the groups disagree about the tone of political climate on campus.

According to Beth Wright ‘17, president of the College Republicans, “Conservatives are probably a minority at Davidson.”

Bridget Lavender ‘18, president of the College Democrats, agreed. “I’ve heard that there are more Democrats than Republicans,” she said.

Sarah Gompper ‘18 and Alex Mathews ‘16, two leaders of the College Libertarians, disagreed, arguing that the progressive voice on campus outpaces the actual progressive presence. “While Republicans and Libertarians probably make up close to half of the population,” Gompper said, “their views are not heard to nearly the same extent as those of our progressive peers. There’s a type of intimidation that plays out. People can be scared to voice minority political opinions.”

Both the College Republicans and College Democrats reported a large increase in membership over the past few years, with the number of Republicans quadrupling from two years ago. Because of the increase in membership, the campus, like the nation, has become more polarized. While the Libertarians have not gained membership at the same rate as the other groups, Mathews insisted there has been an influx of libertarian ideals. “We have found out that at least one third of our campus has libertarian views,” she said.

The Center for Political Engagement, a nonpartisan campus organization designed to foster respectful political discussion, houses the three aforementioned partisan groups on campus. Lavender commended the Center for providing a forum for discussion. “It’s great to have a formal system of meeting together,” she said.

Wright said that the CPE is “working to improve the political climate, because it helps to improve political communication.”

Some members of the College Democrats recently encountered resistance when the college barred the group Davidson Students For Bernie Sanders from using the college email system. The group, which seeks to informally coordinate support for the Democratic candidate, was admonished by figures in the school administration after the College Democrats sent out an email advertising the campaign group’s first meeting. When Davidson Vice President and General Counsel Sarah Phillips received the email, and after she consulted outside legal sources, she sent an email back informing the group that the college’s email system cannot be used to campaign for a specific candidate. Because Davidson is a 501(C) nonprofit organization, it is not allowed to utilize resources to campaign for specific candidates or engage in profit-seeking activities.

Despite these restrictions, “the college fully supports each student’s individual right to engage in political activity, including campaigning for a political candidate,” Phillips emphasized.

“The college’s resistance disgruntled Emily Taylor ‘16, a leader of Students for Bernie Sanders, who claimed that the rule is “not enforced in a consistent manner.” However, the issue has temporarily been settled, as the group is allowed to continue to operate as long as it avoids the status of an organization.

Members of other politically-minded organizations have expressed worry and confusion at the enforcement of the policy. Wright, of the College Republicans, said, “We haven’t had a problem with this in the past.”

Mathews, of the College Libertarians, expressed similar confusion, stating, “We would be very interested in talking with somebody who can explain the campus’s policy and explain to students how to work within the legal parameters of it.”

Lavender, of the College Democrats, explained that her organization had no issues in the past with this regulation, and expressed concern that it may impede the group’s ability to engage in activism during elections. She said that the situation was “annoying,” but that she was “accepting of the decision.”

Despite the aforementioned conflicts, Taylor is happy with the path Davidson Students for Bernie Sanders is taking, saying, “We consider it a success that word has spread so quickly about what we are trying to do.”

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