At the University, students, faculty and staff work hard to ensure that a diverse array of thoughts, cultures and perspectives are represented. With the upcoming election, it is important to encourage students and those around us to look into the various ways to get involved politically — and to represent both progressives and conservatives alike. One such way for students to do this is through participation in political organizations on campus, such as the College Democrats or Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC).
What is College Democrats?
The College Democrats are a grassroots campus organization, which focuses on increasing political participation and awareness regarding progressive policies on the University’s campus. While there are nearly fifty students involved in the College Democrats club, around 10 to 20 students regularly attend meetings and events. During these weekly meetings, members discuss current events, watch debates, organize voter registration drivers every semester and host conversions with students in BUCC. Voter outreach is a priority for the club. Students participate in canvassing efforts and “Get Out the Vote” (GOTV) efforts aimed at increasing voter turnout and ensuring that individuals can get to the polls. The club also has a close relationship with Union County Democrats, who assist in organizing efforts.
College Democrats President Caroline Schuermann ’22 explains that, for her, the club serves as a community for political involvement on a campus that she feels lacks political engagement. “As a D.C. native, I was so used to politics being the center of my peers’ worldviews and of our conversations. I was desperately seeking a community of students with whom I could express my political beliefs and who shared a set of ideals. College Democrats has been that community for me at Bucknell,” Schuermann said.
In addition, Schuermann emphasizes the importance of exchanging ideas and participating in discussion and debate, not only with like-minded individuals but also with those who hold different beliefs. “Our regular debates with the Conservatives Club help me challenge my beliefs so I do not become complacent about what I believe in,” she said. “Our healthy competition reminds me of why it is important to engage with those with whom you do not agree. I certainly don’t think we change each others’ minds, but engaging in open dialogue helps us both improve our positions.”
How has COVID impacted the club?
Due to COVID-19, this year looks very different for the club. Usually, the students participate in in-person canvassing two to three times a semester; instead, they are currently involved in phone and text banking every other week. Schuermann emphasizes the importance of the upcoming election. “To Democrats everywhere, this election represents a battle for the soul of this nation. Americans have the opportunity to stand up for the preservation of democratic norms, the proper response to a global pandemic and a commitment to unity over divisive and hateful vitriol,” she said. “The stoking of racial tensions, dissolution of democratic norms, and lack of commitment to addressing the global climate crisis are the issues at stake with a Trump win. The American people have to decide whether or not they are better off than they were four years ago. Most importantly, how did President Trump’s lies and downplaying of COVID affect your life? What and who have you lost as a result?”
Being a part of College Democrats has been an incredibly rewarding experience for Schuermann. “I want young people to understand how much their voices matter and need to be heard. Helping hundreds of students register to vote for the first time this semester has made me so optimistic about the future of this country,” she said.
The Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC)
According to their page on IN Network, the organization is a group promoting freedom, liberty and personal responsibility. Similar to the College Democrats, BUCC meets regularly, hosting club events and bipartisan debates, as well as discussions about national and campus issues. This organization specifically considers these issues from the angles of conservative, classical liberal and libertarian perspectives. There are over 400 students on the club’s email list and around 50 members who regularly attend meetings and events.
The club participates in a variety of events and activities throughout the year including debates with the College Democrats club, attending Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship (BPALC) events, meeting partnerships with Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends (YCCD), inviting YAF/TPUSA speakers like Steven Crowder and Dinesh D’Souza to campus, local campaign volunteering with Union County Republicans and Republican Party of Pennsylvania (PAGOP), and organizing an annual 9/11 Memorial, decorating the Elaine Langone Center lawn with nearly 3,000 flags to represent those lost to the World Trade Center attacks.
In the greater Lewisburg community, members of BUCC volunteer for municipal and congressional campaigns, cater food from local businesses for meetings and invite members of the community to biweekly meetings to speak about conservatism and discuss the role that politics plays in their lives.
The Bucknell University Conservatives Club publishes its own student-run newspaper, The Counterweight, each semester. According to The Counterweight’s website, they are a publication “dedicated to promoting the free exchange of ideas in an environment where meaningful debate and ideological diversity are often lacking.” Students and faculty who write for the publication aim to benefit the University’s community by offering balanced perspectives and viewpoints about a wide spectrum of topics, “describ[ing] logical solutions to issues big and small, while adhering to the Constitution of the United States.”
In addition, according to the publication’s informational page, “[They] believe that peace is best achieved through strength, that utopia is nowhere, and that true equality is blind to race, creed, sex, and sexuality.” The paper hopes to identify flaws in “leftist ideas,” and persuade logical thinkers to consider the conservative viewpoint. The organization encourages students at the University who support their mission and ideology to join their publication team.
BUCC President Isabella Carrega ’22 noted that aside from the club’s regular agenda and events, it serves as a community for all members; students spend time together outside of club meetings, take similar classes, and study with one another. She expresses that many of the students in BUCC feel that they received backlash from the larger campus community due to their conservative views. BUCC provides students a safe environment to voice their opinions. “Because the club encompasses all ‘shades’ of the right, there is disagreement on some political topics. This allows for constructive dialogue between members that remains respectful and informative,” Carrega said.
In addition to providing a safe space for students to express their opinions outside of the classroom, Carrega stresses the importance of establishing this environment inside the classroom. “Viewpoint diversity is what we should be striving for in academic institutions. You should be able to hear both sides of an argument and naturally delineate where you stand. The classroom should not be a place for a professor to advance their own political agenda and deprive students of an entire realm of political thought,” she said. “The classroom should be a place for true knowledge creation where students can express themselves, and critically and independently think.”
How has COVID impacted the club?
This semester, the club has been holding remote meetings, which guest speakers outside of the University also attend. “This has come with its own set of challenges, but we’ve been able to create a leadership board that leads club meetings and events in my absence,” Carrega, who is attending classes remotely this semester, said.