DePauw’s campus has been buzzing after several students launched a petition to stop our Board of Trustees from donating money to political campaigns that “contradict DePauw’s values.” As members of the DePauw community, our organization would like to comment on the petition and the assumptions that it has made about our campus. Those who have signed the petition believe that the “DePauw Board of Trustees should pledge to make no political contributions to harmful candidates in the upcoming 2018 election cycle.” While the writers of the petition assert that pro-life policies and tax breaks are harmful to this nation, these are not DePauw’s beliefs, but reflect the views of only some of our community. Just as it would be wrong for the College Republicans to presume we can speak on behalf of the campus, it is misguided and dishonest for members of other groups, and in particular the College Democrats, to do so.
There is much that College Republicans and Democrats can agree on. We as a campus community need to do more to support women, people of color, immigrants and institutions of higher learning. Most members of our campus would agree that these values are essential to our identity. While the writers and signers of the petition may have good intentions, they are wrong on several fronts. First, to suggest that the entire campus agrees on hotly debated and divisive issues, such as abortion, is naive. In fact, a significant part of our community would argue that positions adopted by the writers of the petition are in fact harmful to the campus and the nation. Our chapter of College Republicans supports DePauw’s common community values, yet our idea of what constitutes a beneficial national policy is very different from what is described in the petition. Good people can disagree over such policies and neither side should pretend that they can speak on behalf of the entire DePauw community.
The petition claims that conservative members of the Board of Trustees are supporting political candidates whose policies are harmful to DePauw, but reasonable and intelligent people vote for conservatives for a variety of reasons. Are they not free to do so? DePauw supports “free inquiry and free expression.” Every member of our community, including the alumni, has the right to their beliefs, which includes speech, assembly and even donating to a political campaign. While some would disagree with Republican policies, it is still consistent with DePauw’s values to express support for those policies. As an institution of higher learning, we must be willing to engage in intelligent political debate. While we recognize the intensity of the current political climate, the writers of the petition are attempting to silence anyone who would disagree with them. In a statement approved by the faculty, DePauw University describes its curriculum as one that seeks to “broaden [students’] perspectives on humanity and culture” and encourages members of the University to “be open to the views of others.” The petition does just the opposite. Surely, this kind of silencing of the opposition is not consistent with DePauw’s values.
We would add that, according to the newspaper article that originally reported on the petition, this project began as a homework assignment of a DePauw professor. We do not know the nature of the assignment, however, we find it disturbing that a professor would apparently assign homework that (1) exposes the personal political preferences of private individuals and puts pressure on them to conform to his or her own political beliefs; and (2) puts into jeopardy the generosity of DePauw’s greatest benefactors. This serves as yet another reminder that conservative students feel unwelcome on this campus.
If we truly want to affect change in politics, let’s have open discussions without intimidation or silencing the other side. Let's debate and reason without making presumptions about who someone is based solely upon political funding or identification. After all, that is what a DePauw education is all about.