When junior Elyse Hutcheson posted on Facebook that she was going to bring back the College Democrats club to Hillsdale College’s campus, she said she was prepared for the worst.
“I was worried,” Hutcheson said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen or how people were going to react.”
Returning from her summer job that July night, she said she was expecting nasty remarks and criticisms, if anything at all. Instead, she found strangers encouraging the club, students volunteering to help, and more than 100 likes on Facebook from her friends.
“I thought people would just ignore it,” Hutcheson said. “But when I came back from my shift, I realized I had so many notifications. It was a good feeling to see so much encouragement.”
Thanks to Hutcheson’s initiative, College Democrats is back on campus after a nearly three-year hiatus. She said she wasn’t prompted by the upcoming presidential election but rather the need for diverse campus discourse. More than 40 students signed up to join the newly reactivated club at The Source.
Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Public Address Matthew Doggett accepted Hutcheson’s invite to become the faculty adviser of the club in May.
“Growing up, my family has always been involved in politics, and until recently, I had helped my mother in her campaigns for city council,” Doggett said. “Since she left office, I had been missing my little involvement in the political world. I think that the club will help me meet that personal desire. I also think the College Democrats is the perfect club to allow a more fully fleshed out understanding of what is a minority view on this campus.”
Hutcheson agrees, and said she hopes the club will hold debates with other campus clubs, including College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom.
“One of the things that needed to be fixed on campus was that there wasn’t a lot of serious treatment of left-wing views,” Hutcheson said. “You don’t ever really see anyone who is liberal coming to campus in a serious light to talk about ideas. It needs to be more than just debates between libertarians and conservatives.”
College Republicans President junior Brant Cohen said although he disagrees with liberal ideologies, he respects the club’s ambition and willingness to debate.
“Their presence will lead to further discourse over our disagreements and allow a minority opinion to be heard, which can strengthen our own views and help us all recognize other sides to political issues,” Cohen said. “At most other colleges and universities, the roles are reversed. I can appreciate their efforts to make their case for the Democratic Party.”
Many of College Democrats’ officers said Hutcheson’s Facebook post inspired them to get involved.
Senior Lauren Melcher was one of those students. As a passionate environmentalist, Melcher said she wanted a club where she could talk about environmental issues as they relate to politics with like-minded students.
“I thought it was very bold and brave of her,” Melcher said.
Melcher serves as the secretary of College Democrats and said she is excited to implement many new environmental initiatives across campus, from encouraging members to donate old bottles to recycling cigarette butts for use in park benches.
College Democrats Vice President senior Christine Scanlan said she felt like her views were a needle in a haystack of conservative ideas and said she was missing open discourse from her college experience. Now, with College Democrats on campus, Scanlan said she hopes there is an attitude change towards liberal ideas from the student body.
“When my political beliefs started changing, and I became more liberal, I felt very out of place at this school,” Scanlan said. “It felt alienating. But with upwards of 40 people signing up, that was a huge win.”
Although Hutcheson said the organization plans to hold liberal speakers and engaging debates, it will not endorse a presidential candidate for the November election.
“No, I don’t see us endorsing a presidential candidate as a group,” Scanlan said. “I identify more as a liberal than a Democrat. We’re not really sold on Hillary Clinton.”
Hutcheson said she debated starting the club during an election year because she didn’t want it to come off as a political move. But Hutcheson said the club goes beyond politics and that there isn’t a better time to start campus discussion.
“While the club is College Democrats, I want it to be a place for anyone who has more liberal ideas,” Hutcheson said. “Our school is small, and it’s good to have a place to talk. You don’t need to be belligerent about it. A lot of people are actually willing to just talk reasonably and not jump down your throat.”