Freshmen start club to promote political discourse

by Hannah Jinks | 2/21/19 2:45am

When the College Republicans welcomed conservative commentator David Horowitz to campus last fall, his talk prompted strong responses from partisan identities at the College. William Reicher ’22 and Vlado Vojdanovski ’22 said they noticed a lack of engagement between disparate political views, inspiring them to create the Dartmouth Political Union — a non-partisan group committed to fostering political discourse.

Reicher said he observed animosity between protesters and attendees at the Horowitz talk, but no productive debate. 

“The Dartmouth Democrats and the Dartmouth Republicans don’t engage with each other,” Reicher said. “It’s created an atmosphere on campus where people are afraid and unwilling to have discourse on a lot of important issues.” 

The College previously had a Political Union that was discontinued in 2010. Since its termination, every Ivy League university has adopted a Political Union aside from Brown University, according to Reicher. He said this trend indicates peer institutions’ values and noted that Dartmouth needs to emulate their example. 

“There’s a precedent for [a Political Union] and it’s something this campus necessitates,” Reicher said. 

The 2009 Dartmouth Political Union’s former president Nathan Bruschi ’10 spoke with Reicher and Vojdanovski to address obstacles the new club may face.  

“[Bruschi] made sure we were aware of how to improve, and interest students of various political backgrounds,” Vojdanovski said. 

Reicher added that unlike the leaders of the first Political Union, the new Union’s current executive board is entirely comprised of freshmen. He said he believes this allows time for the club to garner support and entrench its values in Dartmouth’s culture. 

The club held its first meeting, attended by roughly 10 students, at the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy last Saturday. Attendees were informed of logistics and the aims of the club. Executive board members also facilitated a debate over President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to fund his proposed border wall. 

Vojdanovski said he was pleased by the turnout and hopes the club’s membership base continues to expand. He added that the club’s formal kickoff will be held at the start of spring term, during which officer elections will take place to fill the executive board’s vacant positions. 

Starting in the spring, the Union plans to host public debate events two to three times a term, an idea inspired by debate societies at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. Students will have the opportunity to research a topic, prepare a case and represent their party. Available blocs will include Independent parties.  

“The members in attendance would be polled before and after the debate to gauge interest and how much the discussion changed minds,” Reicher said.

He noted that the Union hopes invited speakers will decide the topic and moderate debates. New Hampshire state senators have already expressed interest in participating, according to Reicher. 

Student leaders of the College Democrats and College Republicans voiced their enthusiasm about the new Dartmouth Political Union. 

“[We’re obviously for] any organization that encourages political dialogue on campus,” College Democrats president Gigi Gunderson ’21 said. “The more students we can get to talk about political issues, especially heading into [the 2020 elections] ... is really positive.” 

Gunderson noted that she encourages the College Democrats’ membership base to engage with differing political viewpoints. She said she views the Dartmouth Political Union as an excellent opportunity for members to refine their opinions. 

College Republicans secretary Charles Schneider ’22 said he believes the Union will be successful. Schneider noted that the political diversity of the Union’s current executive board exemplifies its bipartisan vision. 

He added that the Dartmouth Political Union will play a crucial role in bridging partisan divisions at the College.  

“[The Dartmouth Political Union] is a very good start in promoting bipartisanship on campus,” Schneider said. “Republicans have misconceptions about Democrats and Democrats have misconceptions about Republicans, so a club like this brings those ideas together in a meaningful debate.”