Political violence might be a novelty to most people living in the United States, but it was and is a reality to the rest of the world. People have been assassinated because of it, civil wars were started and families fragmented because of a label that divides people: left and right, blue or red, Republican or Democrat.
This type of intolerance is dangerous, as it is produced from zealotry and a stubborn self-righteousness. Even at centers of enlightenment like universities, in this case UCI, political intolerance is palpable, and conservatives and Republicans are seen as foreign individuals left out of the day-to-day discourse of the university.
The word “liberal” is positively mentioned everyday on campus, while conservatives seem to be a relic of a distant and malignant past or a dystopian present under the Trump administration. A similar situation is happening with the political clubs on campus, especially the College Republicans (CRUCI), who consider the campus environment hostile towards them. I personally agree, but the problem is that to some extent, they have earned this hostility.
College Republicans argue that they favour and protect the First Amendment. Ironically, this group of students has forgotten that freedom of speech implies the responsibilities of discerning what message to express and how to convey it appropriately without violating the liberties of other individuals. When College Republicans host provocative events or are publicly outspoken about delicate social issues, they ignore the student population that might be susceptible to their message, ignore the implicit responsibilities of freedom of speech and behave immaturely to attract attention.
However, the controversial acts of CRUCI are a response to the “politically correct” and leftist political environment on campus that is prompt to mislabel them. When I attended a CRUCI meeting on April 19, every person there was cordial and welcomed new people in to their organization. Despite allegations that they promote harmful speech, the people at the meeting were a diverse group of individuals open to discussing different perspectives on sensible issues such the United States’s missile strikes in Syria, where some people supported US actions against Assad’s regime and others concluded that the United States should not intervene.
At the end of the meeting, everyone agreed that the discussion was an interesting and fruitful exercise. Once the meeting concluded, I asked members of CRUCI about the campus environment and they responded with words such as “hostile;” another member was preoccupied with the idea that “some people are prompt to call us racists just for being part of the College Republicans,” a statement that reflected the misconceptions and prejudice that exist against College Republicans.
Although College Republicans at UCI can host provocative events, other chapters can be more contentious. On March 7, the College Republicans at UC Merced boothed to encourage the reporting of illegal immigrants to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with signs that read “ICE ICE Baby” and “I Love Undocumented Firearms.” UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland condemned the event, calling it a violation of UC Merced principles of “cultivating a campus climate rooted in mutual respect and compassion.” The student government of UCM decided to deny funding for their chapter of College Republicans to attend the California College Republican Convention that took place two weeks ago. The provocative messages of the College Republicans at UC Merced needed to be denounced and appropriate corrective measures imposed to the club, but not castigated by withholding funds to attend a political convention, which is in effect, political censorship.
The use of public controversy by CRUCI is more than a call for attention, it is a means to stay relevant on a campus that deems the Republican Party outdated and disconnected from the vulnerable parts of American society, like the Hispanic and African American communities. College Republicans see public controversy as a means of rebelling against the development of a “politically correct” culture imposed upon them, in fear of censorship of freedom of speech and their way of life.
College Republicans are in a strange position on campus. They believe the college environment is “hostile” and biased toward their political attitudes, and yet tend to be outspoken and provocative in order to attract attention, remain relevant in a politically liberal environment and rebel against social conventions they deem oppressive. However, if they want to harmoniously coexist with other political organizations on campus, CRUCI will have to seek more conventional ways to express their messages without compromising their political identity and offending people around campus.
Sebastian Suarez is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.