The groups for college Democrats and college Republicans have recently re-formed on the University of Indianapolis campus after being disbanded for multiple years. After the college Libertarians group reformed last academic year during the 2016 election, the Democrats and Republicans on campus resurfaced in their own groups, to add to more discussion and campus experience, according to Assistant Professor of Political Science Laura Merrifield Wilson who is leading the college Republicans group.
Professors have gotten the ball rolling on the groups through callout meetings, student conversations and guest speakers. According to Wilson, the Republicans group kicked off its first event by hosting Former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.
“It was fantastic because he’s on campus, he’s a great voice for the party and he’s someone who loves students and is so good with them. So he was a perfect person to come speak,” Wilson said. “He talked a little about his experiences with where the party is right now. And from the organization’s perspective for college Republicans, our students were interested in bringing someone in to talk to students about what the party means.”
Professor of History and Political Science Douglas Woodwell said he helped spearhead the college Democrats group years ago, before it dissolved during the 2012 academic year. Associate Professor of Kinesiology Heidi Rauch, who also was a former advisor for the college Democrats, reached out to Woodwell before winter break, in hopes of reforming the group.
Call out meetings took place on Jan. 22 and Jan. 25 to determine student participation and possible candidates for student leadership opportunities. Despite not yet having any student leaders selected, Woodwell and Rauch have been looking ahead on what opportunities they will be able to give students with this group. They have many ideas that they plan it implement this semester.
“We’ve been brainstorming a lot, and we’ll also do things that we’ve already done. And we’re also looking into what the other options are. Some of it [activities students can get involved in] is grunt work for campaigns, phone banking or door-to-door stuff. Some of it we might do,” Woodwell said. “Sometimes, we just like to have discussions during meetings, and that’s kind of fun. Sometimes, we’ll set debates up with the other groups. Speakers are always a good thing as well.”
Despite the differences in the groups, both Woodwell and Wilson said they see the groups as a friendly way to bring together students from each party and create a more diverse campus community for political conversation. According to Wilson, it is important not to miss one of these perspectives when having political conversations, and the groups will be a great learning opportunity for students to get a broader perspective on the political culture of today’s society.
“I have students who feel really passionate about politics, and so it was important to me to encourage all the students. We should have these organizations on campus,” Wilson said. “We should be talking about politics in a college environment, where it’s an open opportunity for learning and being enlightened and challenging your ideals and what you believe. You can have debates and discussions that are respectful and more open. There is so much more you can do here in college than you’ll ever be able to do elsewhere, and I really wanted to cultivate that. I was really thrilled when I had students in leadership come to me and say ,‘We’re really interested in creating one of these.’ So I was more than happy to support it.”
Wilson also advises the Young Democratic Socialists of America group, yet despite leading two political groups, she identifies as nonpartisan. She said that her goal is to bring about more political conversation among students and bring about a better understanding of politics.
“I hope[that] even if they don’t identify as one or the other—or any of the party options, even the libertarians—I hope that they use these opportunities to understand and learn a little bit more about them,” Wilson said. “Because I do think college is that safe space where you can say, ‘I know my parents were always this, and my friends believe in that, but what do I believe?’”
Wilson said that political science classes offer opportunities for discussions and questions, but not everyone is interested in politics or political science classes.
“Politics involves you, whether you like it or not,” Wilson said. “So I hope this gives people the opportunity to consider what the different parties stand for, have a focus on and have a better sense that when they come to the polls in November, whenever it is, that they feel better educated and more confident in who they’re voting for.”
Once the groups get on their feet, Woodwell and Wilson said that they are interested in debates, community service opportunities and many other events to bring together the groups for Libertarians, Republicans and Democrats on campus.
“I do hope it opens up political conversations. I’m really proud that we have all of the organizations now, with the college Democrats starting up,” Wilson said. “But it is important to have people feel that there still is a place to have an outlet for political conversation. Sometimes we’ll say ‘Oh that shouldn’t be in football games,’ or something like that, but politics happens everywhere. But this is a place strictly to talk ‘Hey what about these issues,’ or ‘we have problems with funding education [so] let’s discuss that,’ [or] ‘What about national defense.’”
According to Woodwell, he is focused on advising the group well and helping the members grow without overpowering them.
“I think in general part of our role as educators, and the whole idea of a liberal education, is to show good citizenship and wanting to be a part of the political process of this country,” he said. “So we see education and good citizenship as intricately linked, and I think that’s always been the case in this country. So in that sense, I definitely think this kind of stuff fits into our educational mission.”