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Ivy league students grow conservative network in advance of 2024 conference

Network empowers student members, organizer said

Conservative students at elite universities built a collegiate network for pro-life advocacy that has expanded to examine broader Judeo-Christian themes of human flourishing.

The upcoming conference of The David Network is scheduled for January 2024 in Washington, D.C., according to the organization’s website. It will coincide with the annual March for Life and unite “hundreds of students” from the eight Ivy League universities, Stanford, and MIT.

“I think as pro-life or religious or conservative students at these overwhelmingly liberal institutions, it is easy to feel like you’re alone,” former member Autumn Cramer told The College Fix in an email interview. “Having a huge group of people (students, professionals, otherwise accomplished folks) who think like you is very empowering.”

Cramer is a recent Cornell University graduate who led the network’s 2022 conference as a college senior.

The David Network began in 2020 with help from conservative donors as a student-run initiative sponsoring flights, buses, meals, and lodging for over 100 Ivy League students attending the annual March for Life in January.

That year, students also organized a conference featuring high-profile speakers, including former presidential candidate Ben Carson, Ohio State Senator Kristina Roegner, and Princeton Professor Robert George, she said.

The first iteration of The David Network’s programming was successful, and since then, the conference has expanded to include more than pro-life issues, she said.

The connections continue beyond the event as well. Cramer said she “found many people through the David Network, even at my own school, that I was able to relate to or bounce ideas off of.”

Now entering its fifth year, the annual summit “is an opportunity for students to meet peers, personally engage with leaders of the conservative movement, and return to their campus equipped to contribute to renewal on campus and in society,” according to its website.

The David Network focuses “on how conservatives, akin to David, can thrive and effectively lead with great encouragement at our hostile progressive institutions, Goliath,” it states.

The most recent conference, in 2023, featured keynote panels on topics such as “The Power of the Abrahamic Tradition” and breakout discussions on business, family, and the future of conservatism, according to its website.

Speakers included Walmart Executive Vice President Dan Bryant, Princeton politics Professor Robert George, Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum Inez Stepman, and Catholic legal theorist and author Erika Bachiochi.

Stepman told The Fix in an email that her panel “was about why forming families seems so much more difficult and is happening more infrequently now versus in the past.” She “spoke about how the ‘life cycle’ of the modern ambitious woman, and her economic trajectory, leaves her a very tight and stressful window in which to find love, marry, and start a family.”

“I was impressed by the students’ questions and their willingness to think about next steps in their own lives,” she said.

Bachiochi, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a senior fellow at the pro-life Abigail Adams Institute at Harvard, also expressed a positive take on the David Network’s students’ commitment to free and reasoned inquiry.

“I was heartened — but not altogether surprised — to see that large numbers of students from Ivy and other elite universities were eager to discuss themes that are basically off limits at their own institutions,” she told The Fix via email. “I suggested that the men toss the porn and the women, the pill, and I was invited back this year. So I’m counting on these students to turn the ship.”

Approximately two-thirds of a Harvard Law School audience walked out on a September 2022 event with Bachiochi on the future of America “After Dobbs,” The Fix reported at the time.

Cramer told The Fix that launching the organization during COVID restrictions was no easy task, but there was a willingness on everyone’s part to make it work.

“This was, for most schools, the first semester after COVID that groups were allowed to travel,” Cramer said. “So not only were there the complications of coordinating and recruiting attendees from 10 different schools, but we also had to work through loopholes of 10 different post-COVID travel policies, which was challenging to say the least. Overall, we were able to accommodate what each school needed so everyone could attend.”

MORE: Activist finds camaraderie, courage through Network of enlightened Women

Editor’s Note: The reporter was involved in The David Project as an undergraduate at Princeton University. The article was updated Mon., Dec. 18 with an extended quote from Erika Bachiochi.

IMAGE: @thedavidnetwork/Instagram

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About the Author
Abigail Anthony - Princeton University