An uneducated, Evangelical gun collector with an American flag sticker on the back of his country-music-blasting pickup truck, who believes gays shouldn’t have rights and thinks that Fox News is actually “fair and balanced”: this is the caricature of your average Republican stereotype.
Though the UW College Republicans may defy this stereotype in some respects – they go to class, at least, and have the brains to get admitted – the ideas behind the group’s outrageous actions seem to validate those late-night punch lines. During the past few years, the club has held events like its 2003 “Affirmative-Action Bake Sale,” where cookies and doughnuts were priced according to the buyer’s race. Last year a student dressed up as a prisoner of war, blasting a stereo to prove a point about media reports of U.S. interrogation techniques. And in late 2007, “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” brought heated debate and protest from on- and off-campus clubs and communities. The series of events included a talk by conservative author and talk-show host Michael Medved and a screening of “Suicide Killers,” a documentary about suicide bombers.
The offensive statements the club is making are nothing new, but they’ve recently gained more attention. Auggie Eck, a senior and the College Republicans' (CRs) newly elected president, attributes this to it being an election year, which raises interest in news about politics.But Max Wagner, a senior and the former UW Young Democrats president, said things with the CRs have gotten worse since his freshman year. Though debates between the clubs have always been heated, the groups would still have fun together. Now that’s “completely dried up,” he said.
“I think the CRs at the UW today are much more hard-lined in their views of how liberal the UW is and that everyone is against them,” Wagner said. “They feel a lot more persecuted than other UW CRs have in the past.”
It’s no secret that academia leans left, but Eck and CRs member Peter Cowman, also a senior, said some of their friends think they have gotten lower grades for offering conservative viewpoints in classes. Though they have no way to prove this, the students feel they’re a minority on campus because of intense peer pressure to be liberal.
Phil Bevis, a Seattle Republicans spokesman, thinks the UW manifests an “intellectual monoculture,” and isn’t upholding its mission to increase diversity in thought.
But is feeling "persecuted" a justification for hosting blatantly offensive events?
Wagner doesn’t think so. He has been personally offended by some of the CRs' statements. Last fall, he protested “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” with the UW’s Muslim Student Association and Hillel UW, a Jewish center.
Despite the seemingly racist mentality of these events, however, club members aren’t necessarily racist.
“I think they hold these events, not because they’re racist, but because they’re ignorant of the facts of the stances they are taking and how they impact people,” Wagner said. “They’re just going about it the wrong way.”
Or maybe the UW community is just looking at it the wrong way.
That’s what Eck said and what former CRs President Tom Walker told The Daily, UW’s student newspaper, after the club’s most recent event, “Find and Illegal Immigrant Tag,” was canceled in April. They felt their critics didn’t have a full picture of what the group was doing.
So what exactly were they doing?
The event would have been an eight-minute game of tag with two players identified as federal agents and four as illegal immigrants. The point was to show the lack of manpower in U.S. border control.
The group says they’re not against immigrants, they just want them to be legal. Cowman, whose girlfriend is a legal immigrant, said he spoke out against the event when the CRs discussed plans for it because he knew people would take it the wrong way.
“We’re not purposely trying to offend people,” Eck said. “We’re trying to raise awareness, and that may be controversial for some. We’re not trying to be offensive to anyone. Could someone take offense? I guess – but that’s really up to the individual.”
Some of these provocative events are held annually by the UW CRs and other Republican groups at universities throughout the country. Eck said he will probably hold “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” again during the 2008-2009 school year, and he hopes to plan new events that haven’t been done before.
Insert punch line here.