By Gianluca D’Elia
A new branch of a conservative organization may be coming to campus in the near future, but their effort to gain club recognition has seen some roadblocks.
The Student Government Association (SGA) debated on and ultimately voted against approving a new chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) shortly before winter break, but this rejection may only be temporary as SGA works to revise its policy for holding clubs accountable if they violate the association’s policies and values.
SGA President John Modica expressed concerns regarding TPUSA’s national reputation. Among these concerns were the organization’s “Professor Watchlist” and efforts by several campus groups to host controversial speakers like former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
“The website talks about promoting free market principles and free speech, but I was more so interested in finding out why once organizations are instituted at universities, these incidents start to occur,” Modica said. “I was concerned, in general, with whether this organization would serve as a platform in the future for students with more extremist views that might take hold of it, and use it as an SGA-sponsored way of saying derogatory things.”
With the nationally debated Professor Watchlist, chapters can take names of professors “who are liberal or take liberal perspectives in their classes,” Modica explained.
“People may think it’s just a conservative version of RateMyProfessor, but it’s more than that,” he said. “In repeated instances, the professors who have appeared on this website received harassment and threats. The watchlist essentially puts these people in a congregated place where they are exposed to getting attacked.”
Rider is not the only school where Turning Point has been turning heads. In January, another chapter of the organization was denied club affiliation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in California because of the student government’s concerns about its “inflammatory tendencies,” according to their student newspaper The Polytechnic. Another chapter at Wartburg College in Iowa was denied recognition in December. However, Rider’s chapter may have another chance at approval in coming months.
Joshua Aminov, a sophomore accounting major and president of the TPUSA chapter forming at Rider, emphasized that social issues are not a part of Turning Point’s mission on campus. “It’s a fiscally focused club and we don’t touch social issues,” he said.
Regarding the Professor Watchlist, Aminov said Rider’s chapter will not participate and that it “doesn’t benefit Rider’s community.”
Aminov said he was particularly interested in being a part of TPUSA because they have an innovative way of educating students on the country’s economic issues. The concept of a free market has personal significance for Aminov, whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union when it was under communist rule.
“I like Turning Point’s approach on tackling fiscal-related issues and the idea of limited government,” Aminov said, thinking of events such as handing out slices of pizza and educating students on their “slice” of the national debt. “These are boring topics for most people our age, so I like that it shows how you can use a fun approach to get students to talk about these topics.”
The overall intention behind establishing a chapter at Rider, according to Aminov, is to bring about more awareness of economic issues and foster more political discourse on campus regarding free market principles and limited government.
Modica said that although he believes in the group’s good intentions, he was wary about what future leaders of the group might do with it, leading him and other SGA executives to examine how all SGA-sponsored organizations should be “reeled in” if they violate SGA’s values and “jeopardize another student’s experience” — an important issue to consider, since student activities fees go toward funding for campus organizations.
“This could be the case for any organization,” he said. “We want to put policies in place so we can re-evaluate any organization under certain measures of whether they’re encouraging inflammatory rhetoric, violating the privacy or safety of students, so that if any organization does that, we know how we can intervene. I’m trying to put those measures in place, and once they’re in place, I will try to bring Turning Point back, and I will vote in favor of them.”
Aminov said Turning Point has been in talks with clubs to host events with both business and political clubs, and plans to host a debate with the College Democrats in the future.
“It will help engage the Rider community and other clubs,” he said. “Student participation could always be better on campus.”
Aminov expressed gratitude for SGA’s work to potentially vote on Turning Point’s club recognition once again. “They didn’t leave us hanging, and they’re genuinely trying to help us,” he said.
College Republicans president and junior marketing major Alex Solomon said having the group on campus would enhance political discussions. He noted that Rider is “above average” in its respect to differing opinions, and that the campus has been a safe place for students from both sides of the aisle to get along.
“Turning Point USA is a very interesting organization as a whole,” he said. “Even though I sit on the same side of the proverbial political aisle, there are many issues and topics and methods they support or employ that I disagree with. But I never shy away from political disagreement, and I believe that any new organization which is interested in fostering discourse is good for Rider as a whole.”