In a rare visit to Cornell’s campus, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) met with 12 members of the Cornell Republicans for an informal round-table discussion and lunch at Taverna Banfi.
Conversation centered primarily around the experience of conservative students on college campuses, with Reed offering to be the moderator between the students and Cornell administration.
Reed’s visit to Cornell was part of his campaign to visit the schools of college students across the district with election day now less than a month away, according to Michael Johns ’20, a columnist for The Sun and president of the Cornell Republicans.
Reed has represented New York’s 23rd district since 2013, but his Republican politics are often at odds with mostly left-leaning Ithaca, a dynamic characterized by Reed’s Extreme Ithaca Liberal ad campaign and a combative 2017 town hall.
Reed is a rare presence on campus, his last visit was a town hall in May 2016, but Johns noted his commitment to seeking out an audience with his constituents, even during tense partisan fights, such as the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, which Reed supported.
“The congressman is one of the most impressive in the country in his commitment to having town halls all across the district. He’s had town halls in Ithaca even when it was difficult, in fact especially when it was difficult in the middle of the healthcare conflict after the 2016 election and continuing since,” Johns told The Sun.
Reed spent most of the lunch listening to students describe the campus political atmosphere, including fears that conservative viewpoints were looked down upon by others. Osai Egharevba ’21, said that he avoids wearing his Trump hats or shirts on campus for fear of students’ reactions.
“A lot of people have Trump merchandise, but they know better than to wear any of that [on campus] because if you do that, then you’re opening yourself to all this sort of social backlash against you,” Egharevba said. “With a lot of people here there’s a right opinion and a wrong opinion, and that can be very dangerous.”
Several students echoed Egharevba’s concern that voicing conservative opinions on campus could result in backlash. Reed noted similar expressions of fear from students at Hobart University and offered support for both.
“If you feel any hesitancy to speak up, then we can be a moderator or mediator between the administration, so feel free to reach out to us,” Reed told the assembled students.
While the conversation was full of criticisms, students admitted that the majority of the time, students and the University are willing to engage and cognizant of free speech issues.
“It’s not necessarily that my speech or my opinions have been changed or silenced because at the end of the day the University has been for the most part supportive, and a lot of people on campus are willing to listen. They might not change their minds, but they’re at least willing to have a conversation,” said Anna Girod ’20.
As the lunch came to a close, Reed offered some of his political insights and prescriptions for closing the political rift.
“Show up and keep an open mind, and just keep doing it. Because if you give up, that’s what I’m most afraid of,” Reed said. “I see a level of disengagement in America that’s growing, and the cynicism is growing very deep, and that’s when we lose our country, is when people stop engaging. When people stop engaging, that’s the death of democracy.”