Conservatives apparently feel increasingly compelled to declare their political beliefs on the traditionally liberal turf of college campuses.
The first-ever National Conservative Coming Out Day was recently observed on more than 30 campuses, including Indiana State University, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Cornell University.
"National Conservative Coming Out Day was an excellent opportunity to show the Michigan State University campus that there are conservatives on campus and we are proud of who we are," said Justine Ivanoff, chairman of the College Republicans at Michigan State University. Ivanoff's group put up a giant poster that read, "I came out on National Conservative Coming Out Day." Students who wanted to "come out" could get their pictures taken as well.
Jonathan Moore, president of the Indiana State College Republicans, said the Sept. 21 "coming out" day was important because conservative students often feel outnumbered and intimidated.
"It was an entertaining title that has a lot of meaning for conservatives on campus because we are a minority," Moore said. "It is hard sometimes because you do feel pressured to keep it to yourself."
Moore's group occupied a table from which members passed out fliers, free Saving Social Security t-shirts and membership cards for the Republican Party. They also invited anyone passing by to sign a petition for Social Security reform.
"Hopefully, students will know a little bit more about conservative groups on our campus now." said Matthew Gage, events chairman for the University of Michigan College Republicans.
National Conservative Coming Out Day was the brainchild of the Campus Leadership Program (CLP), an initiative that recruits, trains, and assists conservative student organizations on college campuses. The CLP came up with the national day as a way to rally conservative-minded students who feel pressured by fellow students and professors to keep their views to themselves.
"Many students are afraid to identify themselves as conservative on campus because the political environment is so hostile to conservative ideas," said national CLP director Steve Stockman in a press release. "Conservative students are often intimidated by the documented liberal bias of professors and administrators."
The Campus Leadership Program originally used its website to pitch the idea about a national coming out day to student-run conservative groups, but then stepped aside. "Students do the legwork. We just gave them the idea," said Allison Kasic, the CLP's campus services coordinator.
Kasic said the event could benefit the participating groups by gaining them press attention and maybe new members. "It's a multipurpose event," she said. "It's an event that these groups can get press for but it is also a recruiting event. You're identifying students who are conservative and who might have an interest in joining the club."
National Conservative Coming Out Day may even have sparked interest in people who were not conservative. "A lot of people came to our table and asked questions about conservatism -- what are the College Republicans. We had members of black groups and fraternity groups coming up to us, just to see what we were all about," Moore said.
Others were less than friendly. "There were some protesters," said Ivanoff. "My understanding was they just didn't like that we were advocating Republican policies."
Kasic said her group has other ideas as well. In October, the Campus Leadership Program plans to invite student groups to declare National Sovereignty Day to coincide with United Nations Day. In November, the CLP plans to commemorate Veterans' Day with candlelight vigils and by having its members volunteer at veterans' hospitals. December will see the Save Christmas Campaign to protest what Kasic said is a tendency of many campuses to "ban anything relating to Christmas."
The CLP is a division of the Leadership Institute, a non-profit educational organization that prepares conservative-minded students to be leaders and activists in public policy. It hosts 18 educational programs, an intern program, an employment placement service and a broadcast journalism placement service. Since its founding in 1979, the group has admitted more than 40,000 students. It is based in Arlington, Va.
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