In this Q&A we speak with Emmakristina Sveen from the Class of 2017.
Q: How and when did you form the Wesleyan Republican Committee (WRC)?
A: Meghan Kelly ’17 and I founded the Wesleyan Republican Committee this fall. The previous Republican student group on campus, which was started in 2009, gradually deteriorated after the 2012 elections and after their senior leadership graduated. We wanted to establish a club that served as a vehicle in which students with any level of affiliation with the Republican Party could discuss their political views in a safe environment. With the help of Meghan’s brother, who served as chairman of the College Republican chapter at Northeastern, we received our charter from the College Republican National Committee and the Connecticut Federation of College Republicans. We are now the largest College Republican chapter in the state of Connecticut.
Q: Wesleyan has a reputation as being a rather liberal institution. Was political diversity a consideration for you in choosing a college, and how did you feel about Wesleyan?
A: Wesleyan is an incredibly liberal institution, which is a key factor to the school’s identity. I knew that about Wesleyan when considering colleges and, ironically, it was one of the main reasons I chose to attend Wesleyan. I really liked the general attitude of the campus, and respected the initiative of students in standing up for their beliefs in matters relating to the campus and to the nation.
That being said, I did not know that the small percentage of students with more right-leaning views were “hushed and hidden.” My goal was to bring those students out of “hiding.”
Q: How did you get the word out to students about your new group, and how many members are in the group now?
A: We knew that in starting a Republican organization on such a liberal campus, we wouldn’t be taken seriously right off the bat. Therefore we knew that first and foremost, we would have to establish our legitimacy. Before reaching out to the student body, we received our charter and were established as a Wesleyan student group. With our generation in particular, the importance of an established social media base in trying to solidify legitimacy is paramount. So we launched our website (www.wesrepublicans.com), as well as our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.
Now we have more than 75 active members from all four classes. Our member base is also incredibly diverse in containing people of various races and ethnicities—including international students who provide a comparative outlook to our discussions—men and women, and members of the LGBT community.
Q: What would you say has been the reception to your group by students?
A: Pretty extreme on opposite ends of the spectrum. There definitely were students who vehemently opposed the formation of a Republican group on campus, arguing that there was no place for a conservative student group at a liberal institution like Wesleyan.
However, there is also an enormous number of students who have showed unwavering support for the Wesleyan Republican Committee, including the Wesleyan Democrats. Students with a healthy and accurate outlook on the nature of American politics are glad that we exist at Wesleyan. Our country’s political system is multi-partisan and polarized, so to have only one political view represented on campus is to compromise the political health of the campus. Additionally, never having your liberal views challenged compromises the validity of your political views; healthy debate and discussion is paramount to political health and political diversity.
Q: Please tell us about your group’s activities.
A: The Wesleyan Republican Committee was extremely active during midterm elections, campaigning for Middletown state representative candidates as well as the Republican candidate in the Connecticut gubernatorial race. We co-sponsored same-day voter registration with the Wesleyan Democrats and helped shuttle students down to Middletown polling locations.
We meet once a week and have hosted a variety of guest speakers to educate our members on different policies and help our members solidify their own opinions. Looking towards the rest of this semester, we are sending a group of 10 students to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. this month, and are hoping to bring many more speakers to campus. We are reaching out to alumni in hopes of finding conservatives who are interested in speaking to our club or helping us arrange speakers. We are hoping to establish a base of conservative alumni who can sponsor or advise us.
Q: Do you have any plans for engaging with the Wesleyan College Democrats?
A: We actually work very closely with the Wesleyan Democrats. The president of WesDems, Marshal Lawler ’16, was huge in helping us get off the ground in the fall. He advised us in starting and leading a political student group at Wesleyan and spoke out against the hostility we were receiving. Indicative of the relationship between Wesleyan Democrats and Wesleyan Republicans is our newest creation, Arcadia: Wesleyan’s Nonpartisan Political Magazine. Last semester, Marshal and I founded the magazine and appointed members of our respective organizations to co-lead the project. The magazine is already hugely successful.
In my experience starting a Republican group at a very liberal institution, I have realized that, in general, we all allow the political polarization of our parties to distract us from the purpose of having a party system in the first place. We allow this polarization to manifest itself in a combative manner in which we seek to criminalize the opposing party by labeling that party’s affiliates with gross misperceptions and stereotypes. It’s an issue that plagues both parties on a campus, state and national level. Therefore, establishing a relationship with WesDems was one of our first priorities. The nature and spirit of the Wesleyan Republican Committee is to create political diversity on our campus and improve the political health of a key population of voters. We seek to encourage students of all political affiliations to advocate for what they believe in and not be intimidated by the masses. We may have different opinions in how to go about doing so, but at the end of the day, we all have the same end goal: to improve our country.
Q: Are there any common misperceptions about Republicans that you’d like to correct?
A: Oh gosh, correcting misperceptions about the Republican Party could be an entire article in itself. It’s unfortunate that absurd stereotypes continue to plague all Republicans or conservatives, thus deterring young people from considering the actual policies of the Republican Party. And it is my hope that at Wesleyan, we are all intellectual enough to ignore misperceptions and stereotypical rhetoric, such as the “war on women” or that Republicans are only rich, white men. Such rhetoric is counterproductive to healthy political discourse and only encourages people to disregard actual policy opinions. Additionally, I have been asked on multiple occasions, “What do Wesleyan Republicans stand for? What do you guys believe?” The Wesleyan Republican Committee “stands for” political diversity and supporting free speech of political views. As a committee, we don’t collectively agree on anything. Every individual has their own level conservative affiliation that varies from far right conservative views to registered Democrats who agree with one Republican policy.
Q: Tell us about your political involvement outside of Wesleyan.
A: I was recently elected as vice-chairman of the Connecticut Federation of College Republicans. Matt Kuhn ’17 was also elected director of communications to the CFCR Executive Board in January. This is the first time in history that two Wesleyan students are serving on the state executive board! I was also asked to speak on a panel titled “Women in Politics” at the University of New Haven.
Q: How can students, parents or alumni get in touch to learn more or support your group?
A: They are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website at http://www.wesrepublicans.com/. Additionally, we would love to include alumni contributions to our magazine, Arcadia. For more information or to submit to the magazine, please contact the Wesleyan Republican Committee liaison and Co-Editor-in-Chief Hannah Skopicki ’18 at email@example.com.