Castleton State College conservative students are standing up to try to level the playing field on campus that they see as very liberally slanted – and they’ve done so by starting the Conservative Club.The club’s recently completed constitution states that, “the purpose of this organization shall be to establish a conservative base on campus to help make Castleton’s campus more balanced politically. Furthermore, this organization shall allow republicans and conservatives on campus a place to share ideas and political opinions while also promoting conservative and republican ideals and hold events sponsoring these beliefs and ideals.”
“A couple of my friends got thinking since it is a liberal campus, students should be able to come together to establish a conservative base,” said Ian Kilburn, initiator and vice president of the club.
Although students and professors have different political views, some say political diversity on campus is good.
“It’s great. There is far too much apathy in our society, and we love it when students get involved in politics or any other kind of extracurricular activity,” said Jonathan Spiro a history professor and outspoken supporter of Barrack Obama.
Matt Patry, an academic counselor who also openly supported Obama in the days leading up to the election, agreed.
“I am glad the club got started. Any time the students start a political group, it helps get students into government and getting involved,” Patry said, sporting an Obama pin.
In his first semester as a freshman, Kilburn quickly realized his views were in the minority on campus.
“It’s hard to be a minority. You want to say your opinion, but it’s difficult to voice your opinion,” Kilburn said.
Kilburn is not the only student on campus that feels this way.
“I really wasn’t aware I was in the minority being a Republican until two things happened: One, a professor started passing out Obama pins and putting up stickers, and two, an e-mail notice that went out to everyone that made it sound as if the college was a democratic entity,” said Wendy Wentz an elementary education major.
A female member of the club, who did not want her name to be revealed for fear of retribution in classes for voicing her opinion, said, “I try not to say anything and I’d rather not deal with being minority because people look at you differently when they find out.”
But joining the Conservative Club has helped students like Joe Marcum deal with being a minority on campus.
“We are in a biased liberal education atmosphere from high school to college and I have adapted to it like dealing with a bad headache,” said Marcum, with a stern, intense face.
That bad headache that has Marcum in a rage is being controlled by the Conservative Club because he said he can voice his opinion freely.
In the Vermont State Colleges Manual of Policy and Procedures under Political Activity, it states “No Vermont State College official, faculty member or employee is authorized in his or her official capacity to make a public statements in support of, or in opposition to a political campaign or candidate for public office.”
Despite that mandate, students say some professors, including Spiro, often preach a political side in class – and that troubles them.
In an e-mail response to questions about politics in the classroom, Spiro wrote “I hate being criticized. I think that it comes from not understanding what college is all about, which is to get students to learn to think critically. So as long as a professor tells students from the very beginning what their biases are and reminds them throughout the semester of those biases, and as long as professors always encourage students to disagree with them and lastly as long as professors constantly remind students that their grades are based not on their political opinion, but on how well they use facts to defend those opinions, then I think it would be a shame if political issues were not discussed in class.”
He continued saying that “unfortunately, some students, usually the ones with low grades and or the ones who come from homes where there were never any political discussion around the dinner table, do not understand the importance and the joy of engaging in political debate and critical thinking. They do not fully grasp the concept that we come to college to read the difficult as opposed to the easy books, to make friends with unfamiliar as opposed to familiar people, and to be exposed to challenging rather than comfortable ideas,” he wrote.
Standing up for faculty and professors on campus, Patry said he believes it is unfair to call faculty members bias.
“I would be shocked if professors and faculty pushed their views on stuff, down student’s throats. I agree if faculty and professors are, they should never push a political view in class,” he said.
Wentz said she joined the Conservative Club because it was a relief for her knowing someone else felt the same way. The woman who did not want her identity revealed agreed saying “It’s a chance to show our school’s community that not all conservatives are Bush loving and God fanatics.”
“I joined the club because I was afraid of being attacked by my peers in a classroom setting if I voice my opinion,” said Eric Kapitan, a communication major. “It’s also a good opportunity to meet people with the same view.”
The club is growing and has 20 members currently enrolled.
“The Conservative Club will work alongside with the Rutland field office for Republicans to get the word out around Castleton and the Rutland area,” said Kilburn the vice president. “If students would like to join the club, just show up to a meeting or contact me and I will put you on the list.”
For Marcum, the club’s formation was long and overdue.
“It’s a way to stick the middle finger at Castleton’s liberal bias and say NO, I refuse to conform,” he said.