By Logan Blakeslee, Former Central Region Co-Chairman of the New York Federation of College Republicans
The hardest part of being a conservative or libertarian-minded student on most college campuses in America is staying true to your own values. It takes no effort at all to keep silent, go with the crowd, and parrot whatever the professor says for an easy grade. It is much more difficult to speak your mind in class or in public and ostracize oneself, especially at a stage in life where social acceptance means everything.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless chapters of conservative-leaning clubs throughout the United States vanished without a trace. Leading members graduated and it was hard to muster excitement when meetings were held over Zoom, despite the numerous major political events taking place. This left many right-leaning students more isolated than ever. This was the exact experience of the Binghamton University College Republicans from 2020-2021.
This guide will provide a few important steps on how to make your C.R. chapter Great Again™. I can assure all readers that I and many others learned these lessons the hard way. If followed properly, you will have created a bastion for freedom-lovers and free-thinkers that will last many years after you graduate. In other words, your successors will conserve your success!
Within two weeks of arriving on campus, you will get a general impression of your college’s political climate. Beyond the signs promoting DEI initiatives or seminars from professors with beards and glasses who admire Michel Foucault to an uncomfortable degree, the dialogue from your peers will indicate whether your college campus is lukewarm liberal or U.C. Berkeley. The political atmosphere may change annually as students and elections come and go, but it is always a valuable experience to communicate and befriend moderates and liberals who will tolerate your beliefs.
The more open the environment, the more your club can host events that demonstrate a full commitment to bipartisanship and political involvement. The BUCR went through the effort of organizing a (great) debate with College Libertarians and College Democrats in the Fall semester of 2022. This attracted a sizable crowd and allowed students to hear opinions that might never have been shared in classrooms or dorms. In the following semester, the three clubs joined together for a new summit on political engagement which has done well in further warming relations between once-vitriolic rivals.
The real ticket to success for College Republicans, however, is advertising. We were very careful to set up posters every single week on almost every available wall on campus. These posters informed members and newcomers of meeting times and locations, which changed frequently due to the lack of a permanent club office. Canva (a graphic design software program) will quickly become your new best friend for churning out decent-looking posters. In addition, emailing club schedules from our Student Association account was similarly helpful in reaching as many students as possible.
Combined with advertising, a College Republicans chapter must have events worth attending if it is to survive. Talking about the latest news can provide some worthwhile discussions, though it may get repetitive after a while. You can also host local elected officials to speak on campus, send students to volunteer on election campaigns, support a bid for student government, network for internships (I recommend the Leadership Institute for the more high-profile internships), and plenty more. The opportunities are endless, and this can all be achieved with little-to-no budget funding for your chapter, which will be important if you’re starting from the ground up.
The bulk of a club’s budget should be spent on two important items: snacks and big off-campus events. Nothing keeps an audience captivated like pizza and drinks for general body meetings. Beyond that, taking an annual pilgrimage to CPAC, the YAF National Conservative Student Conference, or even a campaign rally will boost morale and serve as a memorable bonding experience for all members. These events can be especially pricey, so it’s best to coordinate, apply for grants early, and carefully craft a budget that allows as many willing members to attend as possible.
Another pricey activity is hosting a prominent conservative speaker on campus. Should the stars align and your chapter thinks about getting Ben Shapiro or an adjacent figure to visit, get ready to fundraise. The BUCR ran multiple bake sales in 2023 in order to bring an upstart economist named Daniel DiMartino all the way to Binghamton. Some of us had to carry out delivery orders to cover the security fee, which came out to almost half of the speaker’s fee. If you can work well with your Student Association or conservative, nonpartisan organizations, it’s possible to have their assistance in reducing costs, applying for special grants, or otherwise making ends meet for this event.
The trouble with any openly conservative event, however, is not solely in funding or attendance. Trouble can be found in abundance among agitators from within and without. From without, there will be students who steal, vandalize, or destroy posters and other materials for the sake of limiting your event’s (or even your chapter’s) visibility. Do not let them win. Patrol your campus. Replace any lost or defaced posters as soon as you can. Report every incident to the Student Association, administration, Student Conduct, campus police, student publications, to anyone who will listen. Even if nothing comes from it, you will at least have a paper trail. This will come in handy if the following comes to pass:
If an event or a guest speaker gets enough attention, there is a high risk of protesters appearing and causing disruption. This happens often at College Republican or TPUSA chapters all over the United States. Recent incidents include disruptions at Cornell University with Ann Coulter and at SUNY Albany with Ian Haworth, not to mention Binghamton University’s own incident with the economist Arthur Laffer. The radicalized students at these institutions caused thousands of dollars to be wasted, and they intimidated dozens of students for their opinions. It can be difficult to prevent this sort of behavior when university administrators are unwilling to do anything besides offer empty platitudes and lenient punishments.
One practical solution is to mandate an attendance record, wherein all guests must sign their names or register online prior to their arrival. This discourages anonymous hecklers from interfering with an event and would aid in identifying those who disrupt an event to the police and administration. If a disruption receives enough widespread attention, you can potentially seek help from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) to advocate for stronger First Amendment protections on campus grounds.
Beyond all that, internal disagreements within your chapter can be far more destructive than progressive hecklers or biased administrators. A CR chapter typically has a mix of what may be called classical liberals, libertarians, neo-conservatives, populists, and paleo-conservatives. While we generally fight on the same side on 90% of the issues, the remaining 10% can fracture a group and lead to splinter-organizations. It’s generally wise to give everyone a chance to express their opinions and treat everyone equally, but it is also important to hold “conservative” troublemakers responsible if they impede your chapter’s mission.
By “troublemakers,” I am not referring to the likes of Steven Crowder when he holds up a “Change My Mind” sign on campus. I am referring to blatant opportunists who will throw your club under the bus if it advances their political career—people who pursue a title but want none of the responsibility that comes with it. Vouch for your peers who have a proven track record of hard work and good character. Above all, keep an eye out for those who wear the “conservative” label but sneak in authoritarian, racist, or otherwise deranged sentiments, like Nick Fuentes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the accumulated wisdom I gained over five years in College Republicans, first at SUNY Broome and now at SUNY Binghamton. There is always more to talk about, because politics is a non-stop game, and we are all its players, whether we like it or not. I encourage younger people to stay involved in their communities and to vote as often as possible. The policies which your elected officials implement will affect you eventually. By joining a CR chapter, you can stand on the first line of defense for the Constitution and traditional values, and in the future, you can take the lessons you will have learned into public office or a private practice.
In the GOP Presidential debate last week, Governor Ron DeSantis reminded us that decline is a choice, but so is success. Stick to your guns and speak the truth, and your success will be guaranteed. I wish you the best of luck.