By Aaron Orbey
Amid some controversy, about 20 students gathered in a first-floor classroom on Tuesday, September 25, shut the door, and got down to business—launching the school’s new Young Republicans Club, led by Co-Presidents Thor Nagel and Willie Peoples (both ’13).
“Our goal is to create a safe environment for students to discuss their Republican beliefs without the fear of being argued with or deemed ‘wrong,’” Thor explained. “I think the majority of the students in this club can attest to sometimes feeling attacked or merely outnumbered when discussing political beliefs at a liberal school like BB&N in a liberal state like Massachusetts.”
Club member Meghan Klein ’13 added, “I think BB&N is generally a very accepting place for different beliefs, and I have never felt threatened when discussing my beliefs, although sometimes it is uncomfortable and frustrating having or joining a discussion with classmates when you know they do not agree with you.”
The club’s first task—finding a faculty adviser—revealed that students are not the only members of the community who do not necessarily support traditionally conservative ideals. According to Willie, the search for an adviser was no easy feat.
“That was our most difficult task in starting this club,” he admitted.
When he and Thor approached Admission Associate Ellie Loughlin at the beginning of the school year, however, the search came to an end. Though she does not identify as a Republican, Ms. Loughlin stressed every student’s right to express his/her own beliefs—even the uncommon ones.
“There should be the opportunity for them to talk,” she said. “There’s this assumption that people at BB&N are all pretty liberal, and it’s obviously not a fair one. For me, it’s not at all about my own political beliefs, but their being able to express theirs in as thoughtful and appropriate a manner as they can. You always have to think about what you say and how it affects people around you.”
“Ms. Loughlin has been very patient,” Thor said, “and she understands and supports the notion that we should have access to a forum where we can discuss our views as well as help to show BB&N that it is okay to have opposing viewpoints about certain issues. It does not necessarily define us as people.”
In fact, Meghan and both Co-Presidents said that they would support the establishment of an equivalent club for Democrats—without any tension.
“I think any group of people who want to start a club has every right to do so, which is why BB&N is so great,” Meghan said. “On the other hand, I do not foresee this becoming any type of rivaling debate club where opinions are argued.”
Willie added, “In no way is this club aiming to ‘convert’ anybody or convince people that what we believe is right. It is merely an outlet to express what it is we do believe.”
Still, some students remain heated.
“I honestly find it disgusting,” said Alison Saparoff ’13, “that anyone who is in a community of such a diverse group of people—in sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ethnicity—prides themselves on being affiliated with a party and a campaign that [I believe] preaches inequality. I honestly resent the whole platform.”
Walker Maeder-York ’13 added, “I can’t believe people have such obtuse views on gun control and abortion, in my opinion, but we have to let people freely voice their ideas.”
Other factors, aside from politics alone, have affected students’ perceptions of the new club.
“I find it interesting [and complicated] that one president of the Young Republicans Club is also a president of Crossroads,” said Chloe Tinagero ’15. “I do think it’s fine that they started the group, though. They should be allowed to.”
Eva Murray ’13 pointed out another side to the debate.
“I think we’re really young to be calling ourselves Democrats and Republicans. We should know why we’re supporting what we’re supporting,” she said. “I don’t support the Young Republicans Club in any way, but I do think it should be there.”
Tensions surrounding political beliefs should be addressed, according to Carolyn Kwon ’12, who graduated last spring. According to her, the perception of school as an entirely liberal community dates back—and ought to be changed to accommodate all students.
“The slightest jab, joke, or sarcastic remark about a presidential candidate or political view can really make a student feel like s/he is in the minority and no longer in a safe environment to share with everyone,” she said. “I believe that these general assumptions at BB&N really need to be brought to the surface and examined because they can cause undesirable and unnecessarily internal conflicts and tensions for students.”
New political clubs—a legitimate possibility, according to Ms. Loughlin—could expand this sort of discussion.
“Maybe having a Young Republicans Club will inspire a Young Democrats Club,” she said.
Photo: The Young Republicans Club assembled to rally about its members’ shared beliefs. By Shayna Goldberger.