SILVIA OAKLAND, TRUMPET EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
“There’s really been an active Wartburg TPUSA [Turning Point USA] organization on campus for the last few years, they just haven’t been a recognized student organization,” Dr. Daniel Kittle, dean of students at Wartburg College, said.
“There have been Wartburg students meeting under that banner and discussing ways they can advance their agenda.” Wartburg College Student Senate voted to approve a campus chapter of Turning Point USA by vote of 33-14 on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, according to Student Senate minutes provided from the Student Senate meeting on Dec. 12.
“I just want us to be able to exist and thrive and be accepted by our peers, that’s a big thing for us, that’s why we pushed to be approved through Student Senate,” Emily Russell, fourth-year English major, founder and chapter president of Wartburg’s Turning Point USA chapter, said. “We just want that recognition from our peers. We are willing to work with any organization, but we are ready to move past this drama. We hope that students are as well and that we can all move forward and be productive together.”
Turning Point is no different than other student organizations on campus, Trevor Hurd, fourth-year and student body president, said. “They are a collection of students who have a particular set of beliefs and interests and take comfort in meeting with others who share those views,” Hurd said.
“They can contribute to Wartburg’s campus in various ways … cooperation between Turning Point, [Wartburg] Democrats, and [Wartburg] Republicans can provide to Wartburg students a broad range of ideas in which the students can determine for themselves which are worthwhile to abide by.”
Shalia Vera, third-year Spanish major, was studying abroad in Spain at the time of the chapter approval and learned of it through Twitter. Previously, Vera expressed her thoughts via Twitter.
“For an organization that preaches ‘freedom of speech,’ it seems like it’s only okay to voice your opinion if you are not against the organization or what it stands for,” Vera said. “My tweets along with others’ tweets were used to show the ‘threats’ that were really just our opinion and criticism of the college’s choice and of the organization itself.”
The media’s coverage has had an influence on how the organization has been viewed both nationally and locally, according to Kittle.
“I think some of that is the media has some interest in trying to stir the pot, and so I think in this situation the effort, both in 2017 [when a Wartburg Chapter of Turning Point USA was declined by the senate] as well as this year, the effort has always been to try to be fair and to represent the student voices,” Kittle said.
“Let’s do it better than the rhetoric that we hear outside, even though I think we generally do it better listening civilly to others concerns, we might disagree, but I think we are a microcosm of that noise and it does influence and penetrate the college.”
Vera said she would also like to see Wartburg improve its transparency. “I really think Wartburg’s efforts to unite students is pointless if our students don’t want to participate,” Vera said. “Wartburg as a whole, both students and administration, need to do better and it can only be better if we are at the table when decisions like these are occurring.”
Russell said bringing awareness of Turning Point to campus has been going well, and she hopes, despite the hostility that can come with politics, that it benefits everyone in the future. “We’re willing to talk to anybody, but we are kind of concerned about doing those things when there is some backlash and we don’t know how far people are going to go,” Russell said.
The Wartburg chapter of Turning Point USA has created specific outlines of the organization’s constitution to ensure that it abides by the values of Wartburg, according to Kittle. “I think the thing to take away from this [the approval of Turning Point] is, it’s an ongoing process. It’s not as if we have this student organization and the dialogue stops, no it’s how do we live into this decision by the student senate that reflects the values of the college,” Kittle said. “I’m committed to doing that with other students and my colleagues.”
One concern that Vera has regarding the chapter on Wartburg’s campus is the reputation of the national organization and its members. “I don’t think this aligns with the mission of the college and what it represents and honestly, I think it’s hypocritical to have things like ‘Hate has no place here’ and ‘You Belong’ when hateful organizations like TPUSA have a presence on campus,” Vera said.
“I’m worried about the people who are affected by this organization. I’m talking about the students who aren’t white. Because of the fact that there have been instances of racism towards our students, I feel like what this organization stands for will enable that even more and this is not to say that those students are violent, but words and speech is powerful.”
Concerns of the national chapter of Turning Point USA and Wartburg’s affiliation with it have been brought up, and Russell said the national chapter’s role with Wartburg will be there for resources such as posters, buttons and contacts to bring speakers to campus. Russell also said the campus chapter will continue to monitor the national chapter and address issues when they need to.
“We’ve said from the beginning, with any big organization, there’s going to be some people that don’t, unfortunately, follow the mission and the guidelines that have been spelled out for them,” Russell said. “I have said we are going to address those when they happen and condemn them.” Russell said the executive team of Turning Point USA has been planning an informational meeting for those interested in learning more about the chapter, but nothing has been officially decided.
“Everything is up in the air right now, we do have a lot of ideas floating around though so definitely look for events from us in the future,” Russell said. “We are floating around the idea of panel of diverse group of conservatives that can answer questions from students.”
For more information about Turning Point USA or the Wartburg College chapter, go to tpusa.com.