The elephants in the room

It was just another typical cool, yet vibrant night on campus when a group of 15 UVM students eagerly arrived at Lafayette 202 on Central Campus.

Instead of procrastinating on homework or living a Wednesday night on the wild side, these young men and women wished to voice their opinions without raging rebuttal, though their opinions may seem outlandish to many UVM students.

In their second meeting since early 2007, the group broke open the floor with a discussion about the highly contested Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Contrary to what an outsider would expect from UVM students, she was showered with words of praise. “[She’s] socially conservative, but choosing her was a smart tactical move as she is a fresh young force,” was said.

“[McCain’s pick will give him a] balanced ticket – while she’s similar to him in ideals, her gender and age will be a nice complement to his less favorable characteristics,” was said.

When Barack Obama was mentioned, the name elicited much disgust.

Welcome to the home base of the UVM College Republicans, a student group dedicated to the furthering of Republican ideals and to make their voice heard on campus. While an outsider can simply look around them anywhere on campus and find a political liberal, the same cannot be said about their counterpart.

At a school where one of the primary goals is ‘diversity of thought,’ most students can truthfully say that they are not being exposed to the conservative political ideals that the Republicans boast.

Sadly, as a result, these opposing beliefs have become a laughing matter to many UVM students. The group of Grand Ol’ Party students at UVM is hoping to change that.

“We’re not the same as the people from Texas,” Tom Martin, a senior from Rhode Island and the president of the club said. “Because the Northeast is such a historically democratic area, some people from the area tend to generalize all Republicans as being the same anti-gay, pro-choice, pro-war haters on everything ‘un-American.'”

Just as there are various levels of liberal political thought, Republicans come in similarly diverse shapes and sizes. Rather than acting as the fierce belief-changing force that many liberals generalize ‘Republicans’ as, the College Republicans’ primary goal is to spread political awareness and have constructive conversations with people who have similar and different points of view, as stated on the organization’s Web site.

The key word is constructive. As a Republican in an overtly liberal campus, Martin often feels, “I get cornered as ‘the Republican’ and I have to stay on the defense.” Even then, a debate can form and the intriguing conversations that college promises can come to fruition.

While the College Republicans hope that they might provide another opinion and give the UVM community a more balanced view of the U.S., they have had a long road to get to the stage that they are currently at. As The Cynic previously reported, three years ago the club brought in former conservative Speaker of the House of Representatives and political writer Newt Gingrich to campus to speak.

A combination of low-ticket sales and the high price to bring the influential speaker to UVM, put the waning club in the red and the SGA eventually froze their budget.

The budget was frozen for nearly two years until the SGA derecognized the club, a blow to the camaraderie of Republicans on campus.

Martin explained that this past spring, a core group helped reorganize the club and helped improve visibility for the conservatives. While most of the SGA have liberal leanings, the readmission of the club went over without much of a hitch and the club hopes to make their presence known in the upcoming months.

While the UVM Republicans have high hopes for the upcoming election, they realize that the University and the state of Vermont are historically left leaning groups. With the relatively small group of active members, they have set out to pursue smaller scale works of activism.

Over the next couple of months, Martin and others will be working with the Chittenden County campaign to re-elect incumbent Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, hopefully campaigning both within the borders of the campus and in the local community, Martin said.

Beyond this, the group hopes to aid the University in their pursuit to better inform students of all opinions.

Even though the College Republicans have not made a huge impact on the UVM campus yet, they definitely understand the idea of building a community – Martin noted that in a recent count, the number of people on the listserv for the club nearly outnumbered that of their democratic counterparts.

That is not to say that the College Democrats and Republicans are always on guard against each other; in the past, there have been social gatherings among the two and UVMtv has even aired a debate between the two groups. Martin explained that in the upcoming months, the College Democrats and Republicans are going to be joining forces to sponsor a selection of talks given by political figures of various political leanings.

As the meeting of the College Republicans wound down, some members began talking about how the idea of being a Republican has been ‘tainted’ by George W. Bush and all of his failures. For many Republicans try to distance themselves from him and believe that he failed the party on multiple accounts.

As the mixture of students from all different backgrounds filed out of the room and began the small talk that is present everywhere on campus, the underrepresented group trudged back into the faceless mass of UVM students toward wherever they call home.

Whether it be in the classroom, on the playing field, in club meetings or in frats, Republicans are slowly inching their red onto the green.