Elephant in the Room: Conservatives at Macalester

By Anna Chastain

Thereƒ?TMs no question that conservatives are scarce at Macalester.

There is the Mac GOP and the occasional opinion piece in the Mac Weekly laying out a conservative perspective on an issue. In class there is from time to time a person who identifies right of center and wants to talk about it. But the in-class divide is more often between those ready to climb in bed with Lacan and Foucault and those who arenƒ?TMt, between those who can differentiate Marxist theory from Stalin and those who canƒ?TMt.It seems not unreasonable that at a school whose average politics sit somewhere to the left of the bulk of the Democratic party, conservatives might choose to fly below the radar.

I caught up with four of Macalesterƒ?TMs self-identified conservatives this past week and asked them why they decided to come to such a liberal school, how they like it now that they are here and what has been happening with their politics. Their reasons for coming here were not unusual. Macalesterƒ?TMs academics, location, and reputation as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country all played their part.

Joseph Schultz ƒ?TM06, the current chair of the Mac GOP, was drawn here as a transfer from St. Thomas for Macalesterƒ?TMs Economics Department. ƒ?oeI was interested in economics, I went to the department and looked around,ƒ?? Schultz said, ƒ?oeit seemed fine, and by and large they are. They have a pretty good balance with their faculty on both sides.ƒ??
Schultz describes St. Thomas as much more ƒ?oebalancedƒ?? politically, but he remains impressed with Macalesterƒ?TMs Economics Department.

Brian Ranwick ƒ?TM08 was recruited to play basketball at Macalester. Ranwickƒ?TMs first semester on campus was the 2004 presidential election, and he says the political atmosphere on campus seemed more extreme than it does now. He is also less interested in being vocal now. ƒ?oeI feel like I was a lot more vocal the first time I was here and now I just really donƒ?TMt care,ƒ?? he said.

He transferred out for two semesters, going to the University of Minnesota and to Northwestern, but now heƒ?TMs glad to be back at Macalester. Politics donƒ?TMt really come into it much anymore.

ƒ?oePolitically at Northwestern: you take this and itƒ?TMs the exact opposite. There probably werenƒ?TMt more than a handful of kids whoƒ?TMd call themselves liberals there, but the U is pretty much the same as it is here as far as the professors and students go,ƒ?? Ranwick said. ƒ?oeI couldnƒ?TMt disagree more with the politics of [Macalester] but Iƒ?TMm really happy to be here.ƒ??

Anastasia Verdoljak ƒ?TM09 came to Macalester because she loved the atmosphere on campus and felt that she fit in well, and, again, Macalesterƒ?TMs reputation helped.

ƒ?oeItƒ?TMs a taste of how beliefs donƒ?TMt necessarily dictate how you choose a school,ƒ?? she said.

Verdoljak had looked at Colby College, but, though there seemed to be more conservative political thought on campus, she preferred Macalester.

ƒ?oeI came to visit the first time after my junior year and it was a beautiful campus and the people were so nice, our tour guide gave a lot of information and he was also very laid back which I liked,ƒ?? she said. Verdoljak also wanted to be challenged.

ƒ?oeFor me what conservative entails is more ofƒ?”I believe in truth, and I think a lot of ideals now are more postmodern like everyone has their own truth and so thatƒ?TMs kind of why a lot of my beliefs are more conservative than a lot of people here,ƒ?? she said. ƒ?oeIƒ?TMm always being challenged and having to really think through things.ƒ??

As for an organized conservative presence on campus, the Mac GOP has just one member who is returning next year. Carleton Hanson ƒ?TM09 will likely be increasingly vocal. Tall, outgoing and blonde, Hanson was writing conservative opinion pieces in The Mac Weekly shortly after his arrival on campus. Hanson knew Macalester was very liberal from the outset. At the student org fair the dwindling population of the Mac GOP didnƒ?TMt dismay him, he was just glad Macalester had a conservative org. Though Hanson ƒ?oeisnƒ?TMt sureƒ?? quite where he stands on gay marriage and stresses thereƒ?TMs much more to him than his politics, he is in general both a fiscal and social conservative.

Since being at Macalester, Hanson says his opinions have developed some. ƒ?oeIƒ?TMm big on personal responsibility,ƒ?? he said. ƒ?oeItƒ?TMs easier to say youƒ?TMll pay a little more in taxes and let the government take care of the poor, but here you see a lot of the other side and itƒ?TMs helped me see the human side more.ƒ??

He said he also hopes Macalester students realize that ƒ?oeconservatives are not just angry white old rich men.ƒ??

Hanson will likely take over the reins from Schultz, who, after his graduation this May, is headed to law school. Schultz, soft-spoken and articulate, is the most prominent conservative voice on campus since the graduation of Kramer Lawson ƒ?TM05.

Schultz said before he arrived at Macalester he hadnƒ?TMt seen himself as particularly conservative.

ƒ?oeI was a very moderate guy before I came here. You would never have pegged me as a liberal or a conservative,ƒ?? he said, ƒ?oebut because I tended to side with the conservatives on one or two issues I kind of got pigeonholed.ƒ??

Emphasizing that heƒ?TMs not a Bush conservative, Schultz said heƒ?TMs following John McCainƒ?TMs possible 2008 presidential bid with interest. He and many other moderate conservatives are not only comfortable with McCain themselves but perceive McCainƒ?TMs considerable crossover appeal.

While at Macalester, one of Schultzƒ?TMs projects has been the promotion of on-campus intellectual diversity.

ƒ?oeThereƒ?TMs a lot of groupthink here,ƒ?? he said, ƒ?oewhich can be bad or good depending on your perspective.ƒ??

He points out that when heƒ?TMs off-campus his ideas are met with a very different, and much more positive, reaction.

For Verdoljak and Ranwick, finding a conservative community on campus is not of pressing importance.

Describing himself as ƒ?oeconservative through and through,ƒ??
differentiating himself from the Republicans, Ranwick claims little political involvement beyond ƒ?oevoting and making jackass comments.ƒ?? Ranwick never got caught up with the Mac GOP, is ƒ?oenot sure they exist anymoreƒ?? and is clearly not hugely interested in the group anyway.

If nothing else, this proves the Mac GOP listserv is not a foolproof measure of how numerous Macalester conservatives are.

Ranwick isnƒ?TMt having trouble fitting in. ƒ?oeThe group of friends I hang out with, theyƒ?TMre almost all liberals and it just doesnƒ?TMt play a role in our friendships,ƒ?? he said. It doesnƒ?TMt get in the way of playing beer pong, whether youƒ?TMre conservative or liberal.ƒ??

Verdoljak, a Catholic, has found a Christian community on campus, which is very important to her.

She has enjoyed her involvement in the Interfaith Roundtable, ƒ?oewhere I talked for instance to some Unitarian Universalists and thatƒ?TMs something I hadnƒ?TMt heard of until I came here,ƒ?? she said.

Verdoljak has been pleased at her exposure to different denominations and opinions. Sheƒ?TMs attended pro-choice events.

ƒ?oeIƒ?TMm on the opposite spectrum,ƒ?? she said. ƒ?oeBut itƒ?TMs been really good to go to those and just be opened up to all the different speakers theyƒ?TMve brought in and itƒ?TMs been very educational; and even talking to the pro-choicers, Iƒ?TMve had a few discussions with them and itƒ?TMs been good.ƒ??

Verdoljak said she thinks that some liberals assume that if she disagrees with them itƒ?TMs because she hasnƒ?TMt given the issue enough thought, but she sees it as exactly the opposite.

ƒ?oeFor me itƒ?TMs definitely not a lack of thinking or a lack of wanting to know what