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Bringing Conservatism Back To Amherst College

A student-led, conservative counter-culture movement at Amherst College is in full swing.

Tucked away in a rural valley in Massachusetts lies Amherst College, a small yet venerable institution with roughly 1,800 undergrads and a history that dates back to the early 1800s.

Yet within these hallowed halls – co-launched by revered scholar, devout Christian and Founding Father Noah Webster – the academics had, over the many years, taken on a decidedly liberal bent.

Gone was the open and lively academic study that Webster himself cherished as a man and Federalist who dedicated his life to spirited and serious scholarly debates and publications. It was replaced by professors who publicly embraced socialism, a campus that openly shunned Christianity, and a student body that preferred no hint of open dissent against the liberal mindset that blanketed the school.

In recent years alone, a racially motivated prank against white male students was ignored; the few Conservative professors the college employed were vilified; white male students were labeled oppressors, perpetrators of rape, or willing bystanders; and a leftist reading collective and blog was launched – just to name a few examples.

Blessedly, it is within this culture that a counter-culture has emerged, one that likely has Webster himself smiling down from on high.

That former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich spoke at Amherst College on Dec. 11 to an overflow crowd is not only an impressive feat alone (more on that later), but it also represents a growing intellectual diversity at Amherst thanks to a relatively new student-led effort called “The Resurgence.”

Speaker Gingrich was invited to campus as part of The Resurgence—a series of speakers meant to re-kindle conservative ideology at Amherst sponsored by the newly reformed College Republicans.

Amherst Junior Robert Lucido started the College Republicans last year after attending a campus viewing of a 2012 presidential debate moderated by Political Science Professor Thomas Dumm.

Lucido says during the debate he felt like the only conservative in the room and, though he does not consider himself party-line, felt there needed to be a support system for Republican students. Dumm encouraged Lucido to start the club—an idea he had been considering for some time.

Before he founded the Amherst College Republicans, there was no other group promoting conservative ideology, and the College Democrats had a powerful role on campus, campaigning heavily for Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren.

The College Republicans have thrived since last year with about 20 members consistently attending the monthly meetings and more on the roster.

As part of The Resurgence series, the College Republicans have also brought former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, armless guitarist Tony Melendez, and the former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin to campus. The infusion of a diversity of thought on campus has energized and galvanized the group, helped them believe they can make a difference on campus and study other beliefs at college besides leftist ones.

However, there have been obstacles, including several during the planning of Gingrich’s visit.

College Republicans asked students to attend en masse a meeting of the Amherst Association of Students—Amherst’s student government—to show support for the speaker event so that they could secure funding. They did so because of the fear that without support during the meeting, due to the generally liberal political leanings of the student body, it would appear as if there was no interest in hearing Speaker Gingrich.

Though they were eventually granted the $9,999.99 requested, it was only after a lengthy debate which included concerns about potential protests. In fact, in addition to the money provided by the President’s Office, the Republicans had to obtain extra funding for security from the Director of Student Activities.

The concerns were warranted. An email circulated by the Western Massachusetts branch of Jobs with Justice among several left-leaning local organizations suggested dressing up as characters from A Christmas Carol in order paint Speaker Gingrich as Ebenezer Scrooge. Ultimately, the protest did not materialize. But the hecklers did.

During the question-and-answer portion of Gingrich’s talk, two females hounded Speaker Gingrich, a former professor of history and environmental studies, about his support for natural gas extraction.

Whenever he attempted to respond to their concerns, the girls angrily listed off facts. When he was eventually able to speak, Gingrich responded by highlighting the environmental degradation caused by a so-called “green” energy source, wind power. Some in the audience cheered in support of the speaker. One Amherst College senior described the womens’ demeanor as “disrespectful and ridiculous.”

In order to engage students as fully as possible, the event also included a contest in which the winner—senior Paul Tyler—was able to get special one-on-one time with Speaker Gingrich. The Republicans also collected almost $400 for the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit that provides services for injured servicemen. According to Gingrich, the visit was “remarkable.”

Even though some in the audience were rowdy, the overall sentiment is that the event was a success.

“We-the students, not the faculty-made this very noticeable impact on our campus,” Lucido wrote. “As college students, we literally comprise the future of our country and its future leaders. We, more so than any other age demographic, have the ability to dramatically alter the negative trends that have ripped through our society. As college students in the Northeast, we have the ability to break the cyclical nature of the New Deal Coalition and return the Northeast to the hub of conservatism it was during the 20th century.”

Gingrich’s talk aimed to inspire students in the audience by emphasizing the potential public benefits of technological innovation and the damaging consequences of expansive government regulation. It was co-sponsored by the Amherst College Republicans and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Smith College student Republican groups, as well as the Young America’s Foundation.

It drew 750 attendants from across Western Massachusetts, as well 200 more who couldn’t be seated – a feat which illustrates intellectual diversity is greatly in demand. That Amherst College, administration and students alike, has allowed this “resurgence” to unfold deserves some measure of praise.

Said Webster: “It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”

College Fix contributor Katrin Marquez is a student at Amherst College.

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