To Andrew Church, the beauty of Penn State’s College Independents lies in its open-minded culture.
“We have open discussions and debates with a mix of all ideologies,” Church (senior-economics and business administration) said.
College Independents is a student-run organization that aims to provide a political outlet for students who may not identify with a particular political party on campus.
According to Church, the organization has many members who lean left and many others who lean right — and of course, those who are neither left- or right-leaning.
There are many left- and right-leaning clubs at Penn State, which are more activist-based, but College Independents’ purpose is “purely to listen and analyze” different perspectives, Church said.
“This creates diversity of thought,” he said. “There are always new ideas and thought processes to be critically analyzed, and College Independents gives people the chance to understand these interesting perspectives, even if they are not your own.”
The President of Penn State’s chapter, Rafay Nasir, said his primary reason for taking part in this club is because he has issues with how the nation has become so polarized and sectarian.
“I’m not a fan of how the two-party system in America works because this partisanism gets in the way of thoughtful policy-making,” Nasir (junior-biology and health policy and administration) said.
There are other organizations that aim to discuss sensitive political topics — such as the College Democrats, College Republicans, Turning Point USA and United Socialists — but these organizations fail to help combat the “tone of our political discourse,” according to Church.
“College Independents are not mutually exclusive, as some of the other social organizations are,” Shane Cummings, vice president of College Independents, said. “The political discourse and hyper-partisan people are pushing for will hurt us in the end, we need to learn how others think and learn how to listen to others.”
The group welcomes a diverse range of beliefs and identities. According to Church, he does not identify with either political party. He isn’t registered with a party, whereas, Cummings (junior-management information and applied German) is a registered Democrat. Nasir said he plans to change his registration to Democrat.
With the 2020 election coming up, members of the club discussed their thoughts on the current presidential candidates.
According to Cummings, if all the Democrats were to get a bid in the general election, he would cast his vote for Bernie Sanders.
Cummings could not vote in the last presidential election due to his age, but in the most recent local elections, he voted mostly left-wing.
“I’m fairly far left by American standards, I agree with many social Democrats,” he said. “I believe Democrats have a chance to win this election and I’m hopeful to see progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren take a stand, but if I were to vote today, I would vote for Sanders.”
Katierose Epstein and Reagan McCarthy, upcoming leaders of the Penn State College Democrats and the Penn State College Republicans, have formed a strong friendship despite different political views.
Nasir said he doesn’t take issue with either party and has views that coincide with both ideologies. He thinks this is one of the most important elections of American history and hopes citizens can have an open dialogue on the policies each candidate is expressing.
“This is a very interesting election, and from the club’s perspective, we hope to break down policy and hold productive debates about what impact the candidates have on our country,” Nasir said.
Nasir said he is not sure as of yet who he would vote for — currently, he supports Andrew Yang. Although Nasir isn’t set on a particular candidate, he wants to place importance on getting President Donald Trump out of the office.
“The president is someone who should bring the people together. I do not like how this administration has handled its term,” Nasir said.
Though Church did not state what candidate he favors, he took a different approach on the 2020 election.
According to Church, the left and right-wing parties have very important policies they bring “to the table,” but that his vote depends on who shows the most promise in the upcoming months.
Church is uncomfortable with saying one person is “best suited” for the job. He believes that the policy ideas and interests of the American people need to be the primary concern of whoever takes the office.
“I’m worried voters will be distracted with the drama surrounding the election,” Church said. “In the end, the drama isn’t what’s important and it doesn’t determine who will thoroughly execute the duties of the president.”
Typically, during meetings, an issue or point is brought up and members of the club and people from all over the political spectrum “civically” discuss policy.
For many students, local politics may seem unimportant in comparison to congressional or pre…
The group talks about issues from healthcare to immigration to climate change.
“College Independents is important because I think we’ve lost the perspective to understand other viewpoints,” Church said. “We demonize the other side with the contrasting attitude, which causes us to lose empathy or compassion for others.”
There are currently 40 affiliated members, with typically 15 to 20 members in attendance at each meeting, most of which who are men.
Even though the majority of the organization is male, Church said he is hopeful that more women will join.
“There’s nothing we can do besides advertising,” Church said. “We can’t force people to be involved if they aren’t interested, but we are always welcoming of anyone who want to join.”
Each member on the board of executives and even throughout the organization is politically diverse, which is what makes College Independents so significant, according to Nasir.
“This [College Independents] is the best organization to have proper communication about politics,” Nasir said. “In a world and time of confusion, it’s important to listen to others, and that is why College of Independents plays such a vital role in our community.”
Added Church: “In this time of confusion, it’s important to understand where people are coming from instead of jumping to assumptions and conclusions. And that is why College Independents is such a productive and important club for everyone to join.”