By Gianluca D’Elia
A new branch of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) that was initially denied club recognition in December 2017 has now been approved by the Student Government Association (SGA).
The conservative group’s emergence at Rider has led to a greater conversation about protecting free speech at the university. Originally, the group was denied official club status because of SGA’s concerns about TPUSA’s national reputation and right-wing views, but SGA representatives changed their minds this semester, and the group announced its approval on social media on March 20.
Paul Campbell, a junior organizational psychology major and SGA’s academic affairs chair, said he is certain that TPUSA’s presence on campus will make students more well-rounded and able to develop informed opinions.
“I think the club is going to open up a discourse on this campus that should be had,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of different silos. People keep to themselves and hang around people that want to have the same conversations as them. A lot of students don’t know how to disagree anymore, and they feel personally attacked and can no longer have a discussion. That is something I stand against, so this organization might be able to change that tide and show us how to do that again.”
In February, SGA President John Modica mentioned that he was worried about the national organization’s “Professor Watchlist.” Rider TPUSA President Joshua Aminov confirmed that his group has no intention of participating in that initiative, which posts the names of professors who “advocate radical agendas,” according to its website.
Modica was also skeptical because of efforts by TPUSA groups at other colleges to host controversial speakers, like former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. But Modica later agreed to help them go up for recognition again, so long as an old SGA policy prohibiting hate speech and inflammation could be enforced.
Aminov said the club’s rejection last semester came before he got to speak with Modica one-on-one.
“John was worried the club would be inflammatory,” he said. “People thought it would be a bad club. We weren’t able to present ourselves properly for that reason.”
“After I talked to John about what we’re really about, he agreed to support us,” Aminov added. “In general, we’ve been saying the same thing. We’re about free speech and promoting free market principles. We want to engage all kinds of students in something that they might consider boring, and make it interesting.”
Campbell, a member of Rider’s TPUSA chapter, said he was also skeptical about the organization’s national reputation.
“I was completely concerned about that,” he said. “I believe that previously, we [SGA] had the mechanisms to ensure hate speech and vitriol weren’t being utilized across campus. The oversight just wasn’t there to make sure we’re covered and that we’re protecting students from attack. Again, disagreement is not an attack. Different ideas on how things should be done should not be limited because that’s when you move away from collegiate dialogue.”
TPUSA members expressed concerns last month via Facebook about a recently implemented SGA policy that they claim seeks to shut down conservative groups. The bill states that a club’s recognition can come into question if the organization is deemed to be “participating in, hosting or condoning activities that espouse inflammatory, hateful or derogatory rhetoric or agendas.”
“The bill was just passed, and it was in an effort to fortify the already standing rules that we had in place,” Campbell said. “I don’t think it necessarily affects conservative clubs. It seems polarizing and sensational, but that’s not the actual effect. We’re not the United States Congress, so we’re not going to have the same level of issue. I can see why [TPUSA] would think that, but it would only affect them if they try to bring somebody who is known for promoting hate speech, and you’re going to utilize student funds to bring somebody to the university that would cause some kind of discord.”
As for the group’s upcoming plans, Aminov said, “We want to have big speakers next year. I’m not throwing any names yet because we don’t know who we could get for sure. But we want a mix of speakers, people who can effectively express importance of free speech or having a free market. It could be an economist, a teacher, politicians — it could be anyone.”
He added, “If I could talk to every student on campus, I’d tell them we want to bring Rider together through non-partisanism. If we forget partisan politics, forget the [Washington,] D.C., bickering, we can be more engaged and united, and we can have fun while doing it.”
Students interested in learning more about TPUSA can reach out to the executive board at firstname.lastname@example.org