By Heidi Fods
College campuses strive to provide students with an environment where they can grow and freely express themselves; but at Concordia College, political representation on campus is in question.
Some students say they feel the political diversity of the campus is not represented fairly. This especially appears to concern republican and conservative Cobbers. In an email response from the Student Government Association, they stated it often seems republican students are afraid of “being barked at” by democrat students for expressing their opinions in classrooms and forums.
If students feel their political values are not represented, there are ways for them to make a change. Nathalie Rinehardt, the Director of Student Engagement, encourages students to become involved in the Student Government Association if they feel their opinions are not being represented. This includes attending Senate meetings and applying or running for positions within the SGA.
Students can also apply to start up a new student organization to better serve their need for political representation. Currently, there are only two active student political organizations at Concordia: Young Americans for Freedom and Campus Democrats.
Students concerned over a lack of political representation include the student leaders of Young Americans for Freedom, Concordia’s conservative political student organization. YAF’s leaders say they feel that conservative students are underrepresented on campus, and they shared that some conservative students tell them they feel ostracized. YAF president Alyssa Neistadt and YAF vice president Elsie Graupmann particularly expressed concern over the 2018 Symposium speakers.
Neistadt said “every single one” of the Symposium speakers had a joke about President Donald Trump or conservatives. According to Neistadt, speaker Rebecca Walker made a joke about how “horrible” President Trump and the conservatives that voted for him are.
“The whole auditorium clapped,” Neistadt said, “Think about how you feel when you’re the conservative sitting in there.”
Supporting the perception of political underrepresentation is a general assumption that the campus is mostly democratic and liberal with republican and conservative minorities. Statistically, the political makeup of the campus appears to mirror that assumption. A 2016 survey conducted by student Cole Cymbaluk identified the preferences of Concordia students concerning political parties and ideologies. Among the 631 students who responded, about 56 percent supported democrats, 29 percent supported republicans, and the remaining percentage supported green, libertarian, or other parties.
Additionally, about 66 percent identified more with liberal values and about 34 percent with conservative values. However, those numbers changed when other political ideologies – such as socialism, green, and libertarianism – were added in a later survey question. The percentage of respondents who identified with liberalism shifted to about 39 percent, and the percentage who identified with conservatism changed to about 29 percent. Occupying the other 32 percent were students who identified with the additional political ideologies.
While non-democrat, non-liberal students are a statistical minority on campus, there is some ambiguity over whether they are truly underrepresented, or if it is largely perceptual. Michael Bath, a professor in the political science department, said he sees “nothing to suggest that it (political diversity) is not being accurately represented.”
“It seems to me that they’re pursuing their political views constructively, and as far as I can tell the college has been open to groups across the political spectrum,” said Bath. “I always felt it was important to give people with diverse political views the opportunity to express themselves and feel safe doing that in the classroom.” However, Bath acknowledged that he does not know the details of what happens in classrooms beyond his own.
Whether there is inequity in the representation of political affiliations at Concordia or not, it is acknowledged that there is room for improvement. SGA said in an email response, “We need to work on fostering an environment where people can respectfully share their ideas and then respectfully be able to refute them if you disagree.”