College Republican on a Liberal Campus

by Deborah Lubanga

After spending the hot Virginian summer of 2011 going door-to-door as a volunteer for a Republican state senate campaign, Megan Powers thought she was done with politics.

That fall she was going to start her first year at New York University and planned to study film and television. But she quickly abandoned that course of study.

“I realized that to me politics is the most important thing that really exists in terms of studying. It’s fundamentally the most important thing [for] stability in America and the provision for happy life for people and to just create stability in the world,” she said.

Now as a junior in the Gallatin School of Individual Study, she has designed a major combining political strategy, law, marketing, and branding.  Powers aspires to work as a campaign consultant and political strategist before running for office as a Republican.

But in the meantime, the Virginia-native is vice president of the NYU College Republicans, which she became a member of freshman year.

The club, which meets Thursday evenings, is made up of students from all over the Republican political spectrum, including libertarians, socially moderate, and socially liberal.  However, Powers says most members tend to be economically conservative.

During their weekly meetings prominent members of the Republican Party are often invited to speak to the group. For example, New York State GOP Chairman Edward Cox and former New York Congressman Vito Fossella visited this semester.

Club participation spiked during last year’s presidential election, but now a typical meeting draws about 45 students.  So Powers and club president John Catsimatidis Jr., son of Gristedes Foods CEO and 2013 mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, are focused on recruitment this year.

“I’m sure there are more Republicans at NYU than come every Thursday and that’s for a variety of reasons. But one of them we think is probably because they don’t know we exist so we’ve kind of been tackling that,” said Powers.

Although NYU seems to have a predominantly liberal student body, the College Democrats do not have significantly more members than their Republican counterparts.

“That is upsetting because to me I perceive that there is just a lack of really interest [and] self-involvement in politics. I think that many people don’t recognize the importance of it in their own life,” said Powers.

The two clubs like to rile with each other, but no real animosity exists between them.

In fact, they co-host a debate each semester.  Their spring debate, which was on March 27,  focused on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed tax increase and national gun control.

“I think everyone appreciates that the other side is involved and cares on campus,” said Powers. “We all really ultimately want one of the same things at NYU, which is just more active participation in politics and kind of caring about political effect on students’ lives.”

According to Powers the reception of Republicans among the general NYU population has not been adversarial either.

“I would say on a personal basis with the stories we hear from our members the reception from teachers and administrators generally is great. I mean people really aren’t out to push their political beliefs on you and they aren’t out to punish you for yours,” she said.

However, what a student studies will affect how much their political beliefs factor into their NYU experience. In a few politics classes, Powers has butted heads with professors and students, but can recall only one major incident.

In 2011, a professor wanted the class to participate in an Occupy Wall Street student march in place of the day’s class.  When she approached the professor about doing an alternative assignment, she was denied and ultimately had to consult higher-ups in the department in order to resolve the situation.

But this incident is hardly reflective or Power’s overall experience as a Republican at NYU.

“I really enjoy sitting in classes and knowing that I’m probably the only one that shares my viewpoint,” she said. “I find that if you say something in a respectful manner and you’re willing to listen…people give you [the] mutual respect that you give them.”

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