Conservative Club: Free Speech, Free Food, Free Knowledge For Everyone

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Anastasiya Varenytsya Conservatives of Latin is Latin’s only political club available to students. Other clubs and affinity groups have conversations about the American political scene as they see fit, but no other student-led organization meets for the sole purpose of discussing political agendas, policies, and events as they pertain to our community at Latin. Even though the election of President Donald Trump has sparked serious tensions amongst the community, a deep interest and obligation for discussing politics has also arisen. Now more than ever, it seems appropriate for students to have the option of a guaranteed, 40-minute space integrated into their schedules to talk about what is happening in America, regardless of their political affiliation. As the name suggests, the majority of Conservatives of Latin attendees identify with right-leaning politics, but a solid leftist voice presides as well. The club was reorganized two years ago by its current head, Eric Andresen ‘17, “to show students that the liberal majority of Latin is not representative of the country, provide a space for students to hear their own voices and opinions that sometimes are disregarded by their peers and teachers, and teach how to talk to opposing viewpoints and not let that go in the way of developing relationships.” Just as important, the club is not exclusively Republican (a reason for the recent name change from “Young Republicans” to “Conservatives of Latin”), but rather a place for all members of the community to better understand their own political ideals— if you cannot explain why you aren’t a Republican or a Democrat, then you don’t really know why you are a Republican or a Democrat. As the current Executive and Legislative branches are controlled by Republicans, Conservatives of Latin have a myriad of topics they can cover, especially as the transition from Obama’s America to Trump’s America is a mere month in action. Each clubs-block generally begins with discussing recent executive orders and memorandums— the travel ban, endeavors for building a wall, the repeal of protecting transgender students’ rights in public schools— and the students’ opinions about them, guided by questions regarding appropriateness of the government and relevance to our school. Students are free to participate as much or as little as they’d like, but whenever one does talk, there is a respected stress of using facts and logic in arguments. Most students are on their computers to pull up datasets and articles that they find applicable, and others are quick to call out the logical fallacies, like the straw man argument (“Well, what did the Democrats do when Obama set the record for most formal deportations of any U.S. President?”) and tu quoque (“Obama pushed illegitimate executive orders, why can’t Trump?”) of their peers. Even with a faculty member monitoring the room, it becomes hard to draw the line between a conversation and an argument; but with the nature of an adolescent, homogeneous group with only two members as actual registered voters, it is important for Latin to remember that Conservatives of Latin is only a club run by teenagers and should be taken with a grain of salt. Being said, the actions of a few have earned the club a notorious reputation and are not excused. “The club has earned itself a negative stigma amongst the greater part of the student body for the actions taken by members of the club throughout the last couple of years,” said Andresen. He has been called out by administrators to explain “blatantly racist and sexist remarks that have come from club members,” on their behalf. These comments are “not the ‘un-PC’ statements about policy, but the aggressive and inappropriate remarks made towards other members of the community.” As with every other situation in the world, the actions of a few should never denote the ideals of all; but, unfortunately, it has become so cyclical and normal for Andresen to be called up, find those targeted by ignorant members to apologize, and remind his club members that, “just because they can be [idiots about it], does not mean they should.” One of the objectives with having a club like Conservatives of Latin is “for people to not be constrained by a hyper PC culture,” but that should never challenge the “agreeable and defined line between being un-PC in a debate about policy, and just walking up to someone and saying something stupid.” Being a decent human being is not a right or left issue. For whatever reason, the club has attracted a predominantly white, male population. And even though the club’s poster on the fifth floor staircase says, “Free Speech Free Food Free Knowledge,” it is still worth asking why a more diverse crowd does not show up. Granted, other clubs meet at the same time as Conservatives of Latin, but there is an undeniable stigma that singles out left-leaning students who simply want to show up, see what the club is all about, and feel comfortable enough to engage. In terms of making the club more welcoming, Andresen says what attracted most current members is that they heard the club was just as much “entertaining” as “open-minded” and serious. And to keep the light-hearted image, the club does follow informal social media trends and watch videos shared on Facebook. However, the question of whether introducing these mediums is appropriate or not applies, as the country already hypocritically criticizes blurring the lines between fact and entertainment, yet falls for it every time. Additionally, simply saying that a video found on Facebook should not be trusted is never enough, as there will always be people who will cite an idea off of reddit.com or take Milo Yiannopoulos or Tomi Lahren seriously enough as to suggest them to be one of Latin’s few— if not only— conservative speakers. Latin has allowed Conservatives of Latin to resemble more of an affinity group than a club by accepting the notion that the club is only for Republicans, thus disregarding its potential to be an integral part of the student body. The club is relevant to Latin but will only be respected once political discourse is taken seriously and inclusivity is unquestioned, a responsibility of club members and heads. To ensure that the club continues to run and progress, not only does the Latin community have to simply attend and push past the discomfort of feeling excluded, but the club members are just as expected to uphold the grassroots belief of the club that there is value in diversifying political conversations. Moreover, as the number of members with different political ideologies increases, the club’s purpose of being a discussion forum, and not a debate club of right versus left, needs to be respected. Regardless, we are living under an administration that is already challenging what it means to be an American— diplomatically, socially, morally— and we are privileged to have a small enough school where we can productively interact with students of different ages and beliefs on the fates of our futures. So go, normalize going, and contribute to making Conservatives of Latin a more inclusive, meaningful, and celebrated aspect of the Latin experience.    ]]>