Hillsdale College Democrats returns to campus. (Photo: Cat Howard / Hillsdale Collegian)
Senior Lauren Melcher, junior Elyse Hutcheson, senior Christine Scanlan, senior William Persson, and senior Sam Grinis have rein­stated Hillsdale College Democrats. (Photo: Cat Howard / Hillsdale Col­legian)

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.”