Every Tuesday night at 6:30, members of the Garfield Republican Club (GRC) congregate in Greylock A for discussion on campus, national and global issues. The GRC, the only Republican organization on campus, realizes conservatives are the quiet minority at Williams. Despite this, Mark Gundersen ’04, its co-president, is hopeful about the club’s future.
“When I joined the club as a freshman, it had been a while since there was any serious activism,” he said. “All the influential members who had facilitated the club’s activism in the 1990s had either graduated or were studying away. There was very little carryover, so we had to start the club up again and figure things out on our own.”
The club prides itself as an oasis for diverse discussion and welcomes non-members to join in whenever. The GRC often invites faculty to give informal presentations at their meetings and then attend open forum discussions afterwards. “Most of the professors who come speak with us are not Republican, and our conversations are not always about politics, which is fine because we want our meetings to be a place where ideas can circulate,” Gundersen said. “We don’t want to be just a partisan club. We love intellectually stimulating discussion.”
Michael Lewis, chair of the art department, attended a recent meeting to speak about new campus architecture developments. On Oct. 15, James McAllister, assistant professor of political science, gave a lecture on his own political journey from Trotskyite to more conservative views.
Members are excited about the increase of interest in the GRC and the number of underclassmen active in the group. Gundersen said, “We have a lot of first years and sophomores. It’s encouraging because it promotes continuity. Hopefully, we can avoid another period of inactivity.”
The club is concentrating on beefing up its board and is currently soliciting nominations for a new Public Relations position, whose responsibilities will focus on advertising the group effectively on campus.
The GRC strives to bring at least one speaker to campus each semester. The Board has tentative plans this fall to bring Ben Stein, the actor/comedian perhaps best known to the public for such roles as the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and for his current TV show on Comedy Central “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” He is one of the few conservative Republicans in Hollywood. The talk would most likely be about personal responsibility and less about politics.
In the spring, the club plans to host a lecture by Thor Halvorssen, the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE). “Halvorssen will be speaking about speech codes at public and private colleges and universities,” said Allison Peet ’03, who shares co-presidency of the GRC with Gundersen. “He’ll give an introduction to what can and can not be classified as a restriction of First Amendment rights, and then, he will discuss how speech codes in sexual harassment policies and elsewhere are affecting higher education.”
Last fall, the GRC brought to campus the CATO Institute’s Doug Bandow, who lectured on the virtues of capitalism and free market enterprise. The turnout was well beyond the club’s expectations. Of the event, Gundersen said, “A lot of people came up to me saying that the talk got them thinking, and many said it either solidified their beliefs or changed them.”
Post 9/11, the organization co-sponsored a forum with the Democratic Club on the implications of the attack. Last semester, the club brought Burke Balch ’77, Director of Bio Ethics for the National Right to Life. He spoke about the drawbacks to former President Bill Clinton’s proposal to nationalize health care.
The GRC organizes a trip to Boston in the spring to attend the annual conference for the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans. Last year, the GRC was able to send 12 people. “It does a lot for the dynamic of the group,” Gundersen said. “Each year we send more. Hopefully, this year we’ll be able to send a lot of members.” The conference prepares the group for breaking issues on campuses and elsewhere.
The GRC receives support and guidance from alumni and outside organizations, such as Young America’s Foundation and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).