September 26, 2007

Students Discuss Republican Politics in an Open Forum

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Cornell College Republicans hosted an open forum in Rockefeller Hall last night in an effort to reach out to black students and dispel stereotypes they said have distorted their party’s image and views on race.
The event, which was the first of its kind in recent years, consisted of a two-member panel of Republicans, and was entitled “Cornell Republicans Exposed: The Real Conservative View on Issues that Affect the Black Community.”
The goal of the event was to engage in a constructive dialogue, “not the type of thing we see on so many cable news networks,” David Harris, deputy provost, said to open the forum.
We wanted “to expose people to republican ideals,” said Ahmed Salem ’08, chair of the Cornell College Republicans. He also served as a panelist.
Carol Glenn ’08, the other panelist, said she wanted to show that “you can be black, you can be Republican and still be dedicated to the black community and the issues they face.”
Despite the turnout of approximately 25 students, about half of whom were black, the forum certainly did not lack in its variety of ideas, or in its spirit. The panel faced a series of tough questions and comments regarding the Party’s views on immigration, black voter enfranchisement and economic policy like the minimum wage and poverty.
“It can become discouraging for black folk to have a Republican party that neglects them,” Ernie Jolly ’09 said to the panel.
Jolly is the co-president of Black Students United at Cornell.
The panelists reiterated their views of the Republican’s party platform and highlighted programs like President George Bush’s faith-based initiatives.
Before taking questions, Glenn presented an outline of the core beliefs of the Republican Party. She discussed federalism, judicial restraint and family values, and also pointed out several statistics about black women and abortion.
“I don’t want to talk about whether abortion is right or wrong,” she said, “but I want to show that it is affecting the black community.”
Many questioners also expressed their disapproval of the Bush administration’s policies.
“The Republican Party is not just the party of Bush’s presidency … Not everything that this administration does is a representation of the true values of Republicans,” said Salem, who repeated this idea several times throughout the discussion.
“I think this has been a very positive and constructive forum. I found this quite wonderful,” Harris said to the audience at the conclusion of the forum.
Randy Lariar ’08, president of the Cornell Democrats, attended the forum at the invitation of Salem.
“Democrats are all for constructive debate,” he later said, “It’s good that these events are happening. They should continue.”
Organizers advertised the event by distributing quarter-cards and creating an event on Facebook, which outlined three stereotypes they said have been created about Republicans: that they are “racist,” “want to undo decades of civil rights progress” and “don’t care about Black people.”
“We didn’t come up with [the myths] for sensational value,” said Salem.
These myths have been perpetuated at Cornell, he claimed, by the national political scene and generalizations about a select group of conservatives on campus.
“It might be that a group of select conservatives has communicated that they conform to these myths and the Cornell population has generalized that these myths apply to all conservatives,” he said.
A lack of information or biased information also reinforces the myths, Glenn added.
“I think that a lot of Black people have been raised by liberal parents and now go to a liberal college, and they don’t necessarily get the other side,” she said after the forum.
Both Glenn and Salem agreed that the event was successful because it initiated an important dialogue, regardless of whether or not they recruited new members for the Cornell Republicans. In fact, no mention of the club’s weekly meetings was made throughout the forum