The conservative club Young Americans for Freedom has planned to host an event titled “Change My Mind” through the week of Jan. 22 in the quad, saying they aim to to reduce political divisions on campus through civil discourse.
The club will introduce a different controversial issue on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and invite students to engage in debate with club members over the topics of hate speech, gun control, and affirmative action.
Club advisor Kevin Heiken described the club, associated with the national right-wing advocacy organization Young America’s Foundation, as a safe space for conservatives to have open-ended discussion.
According to a 2016 poll conducted by the Oracle, approximately half of the student body identifies as liberal while only 11% identifies as conservative. In addition, over half of students identify with the Democratic Party and only eight percent with the Republican Party.
Heiken said that on account of this, conservative students can feel isolated among their peers.
Club president Jacob Sillman said that the club’s openness to evaluate the rationale behind different viewpoints is a powerful antidote against everything from polarized news to the echo chambers of late-night comedy.
“My brother and I coined a term known as ‘entertainment politics.’ When you watch late-night television, you easily know who the political enemy is … because they were framed in a bad light in the video or TV segment. We believe this is making people less critical and people can be exploited this way,” Sillman said.
According to Sillman, the club hopes to provide a release from the increasingly polarized news media and foster open-mindedness with the event; however, they don’t expect to actually change minds, as the name suggests.
“We don’t expect to actually change people’s minds … but we know that if we present ourselves in a good manner and put forward our beliefs, then we can break stereotypes behind conservatives,” club speaker Tyler Marchok said, citing the notion that all conservatives are racist as one stigma they hope to confront.
Club members also said that the event could serve to bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives on campus.
By getting people on both sides of the aisle to engage, Sillman said “they can understand that they do not think that much differently. They have just been trained to think that way.”
“We don’t have an angle which we want people to believe,” Marchok said. “At the end of the day, we just want the best ideas to be in everyone’s minds when they’re going out, voting, participating in our democracy.”
In the end, the group members said that they aspire to create a more politically open-minded student body, little by little.
“If we can cause a few people to become more open-minded, or less spiteful about politics, then I will view this whole thing as a success,” club vice president Gabriel Hull said.