Thursday, October 16, 2008

College conservatives say the excitement of a historic presidential election [-] which could send the first black American to the White House [-] has become clouded by an atmosphere of intimidation and hostility on campus.

“People on campus who say they’re the most tolerant, they simply do not walk the walk,” said Brand Kroeger, chairman of the George Washington University College Republicans and head of the D.C. Federation of College Republicans.

Mr. Kroeger said he has been flooded with calls from students who feel they cannot express their views in favor of Republicans for fear of being shouted down.

GW spokeswoman Tracy Schario disagreed. She said the political atmosphere on campus hasn’t changed much over the years.

“Our students speak out about everything and are not in fear of the liberal elite. It’s just as partisan as it was the first time I moved here 15 years ago,” she said.

GW College Democrats President Cory Struble was accused of sanctioning harassment of Republican and conservative students with comments he made at the beginning of the semester WRGW Radio.

Mr. Struble countered that he wasn’t speaking about all Republicans but members of the staunchly conservative Young America’s Foundation (YAF).

According to an audio file provided by Mr. Struble, he said, “We seek to marginalize them as much as possible. You remember YAF last year put an ad in the paper saying how marginalized they felt [at GW]. Well, this year we want to make sure that GW is an even more uncomfortable environment for Republicans and conservatives who seek to destroy our country.”

The statement came in response to the following question from the radio hosts, which was accompanied by laughter: “How will you crush the Republicans in every way this semester?”

Mr. Struble’s response also included standard fare about outdoing the Republicans rhetorically and in scheduled debates as well as turning out more volunteers than the Republicans and muster.

Campus Republicans said they were outraged and that the comments blatantly incited political intimidation.

“There is no place for such intolerant, bigoted comments,” said College Republican spokesman Brandon Hines.

The campus GOP posted an incomplete transcript of Mr. Struble’s comments but removed it from their Web site after Mr. Struble complained to them [-] as well as to The Washington Times, which was also provided with the transcript by the Republican group. The incomplete transcript ommitted reference to the YAF and suggested the word “them” referred to all Republicans.

The College Republicans also told The Times that Mr. Struble’s remarks were made last week, rather than in early September.

Mr. Struble amplified his feelings in an e-mail to The Times.

“In referencing the Young Americas Foundation, a radical conservative group on campus who last year alone spent a whole week campaigning to rhetorically conflate Islam with fascism and hosting the notoriously intolerant Ann Coulter on campus, I challenged students to marginalize such extreme ideology,” he wrote.

For its part, the YAF says that its views on “Islamo-fascism” are intentionally distorted by campus liberals to smear the group as racist, and that fake fliers attributed to the organization have been distributed at GW.

College Democrats said some of Mr. Struble’s responses were in jest, in spirit with the question. As part of his answer, Mr. Struble said student Democrats will indeed be “crushing the College Republicans in absolutely every way.”

Joe Goldman, a sophomore political communications major, said, “Those comments were intended to rally the troops, so to speak. I think the dialogue between the two groups has been much more civil than one might expect. As Election Day draws closer, people become more animated, and that’s natural.”

Sean Rourke, a junior political science major and College Democrat, said, “There is more to be angry about this election year than in others, but I wouldn’t characterize the atmosphere as hostile.”

At Cornell University in New York, the conservative student newspaper Cornell Review sparked outrage on campus in late September after printing a satirical piece that criticized the university’s affirmative-action policies. The publication became so scorned that the Cornell Student Assembly passed a resolution revoking the biweekly journal’s right to use the “Cornell” name.

“I can’t believe a Cornell publication has the audacity to write articles full of hate. It’s an embarrassment for our community,” said Nicole Rivera, president of the Minority Business Student Association at Cornell, who introduced the resolution.

At Metropolitan State College of Denver, conservative students were outraged that their professor assigned them to write an essay critical of Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

At the University of Maryland, senior and John McCain supporter Robb Walton told the campus newspaper, the Diamondback, “It’s like we’re discriminated against, every time we talk, we face hostility in the classroom.”

University of Virginia sophomore Josh Jackson said, “I definitely haven’t experienced anything I’d call discriminatory, but there’s a lot of disapproval publicly. I have a McCain sign in my window, and you are judged very quickly by certain people to be an extreme conservative. [EnLeader] You don’t see people with Obama signs judged as super liberal.”

Mr. Jackson, a 20-year-old business student, described himself as a moderate conservative.

At American University, a spokeswoman said there was nothing untoward on campus.

“We’ve not experienced any problems with students who have brought their concerns [EnLeader] that they can’t be vocal with their political belief,” said Maralee Csellar. “We have a very active student body.”

A rally at GW Wednesday turned into a heated argument between student members of both parties. The College Democrats left their table unattended for nearly 20 minutes to spar with their counterparts.

“We are outnumbered, and we can be a very visible minority, but that doesn’t mean we should be intimidated,” said Tayler Lofquist, a junior College Republican at GW.

A poll conducted by the student newspaper, the GW Hatchet, and released Monday, showed 72 percent of students supported Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee.

Both the College Democrats and the College Republicans agree that Mr. Obama’s huge popularity among young voters and his widening lead in the polls are making political discourse more hostile, not just at GW but nationwide.

“I feel their [conservatives’] frustrations because this campus and campuses across the country are so overwhelmingly pro-Obama,” said Jessica Gordon, also a sophomore College Democrat.

Even with what some see as increased hostility this year, conservative students hope the two sides maintain the ability to respectfully disagree.

“I’m concerned about the dialogue on campus, but I feel that people of every political persuasion will understand the need to have a pragmatic discussion about the issues,” said Bryson Giles, a second-year law student at GW.

Ian Bauder contributed to this report.

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