On Thursday, March 7th, I decided to resign my position on the executive committee of OU College Republicans.
I felt that after months of struggling to try and right the path of my party’s course on campus, the recent disgusting, vile comments made by some members irreparably tainted the integrity of College Republicans and extinguished any chance of my goals to expand the diversity and inclusivity of our club. I wanted to write to the OU community about my personal experiences and thoughts. I hope that my words can heal and lead to change—on campus, in my party, and in our nation. If my thoughts can positively impact at least one person hurt, then I know these words will not have been in vain.
I joined the organization in the fall of 2018 as a freshman. I was full of optimism for the chance to finally impart my vision of what I believed the Republican Party should stand for. I am one who believes in a GOP that espouses compassionate conservatism, cherishes the common bonds of our democratic institutions, and commits itself to the global liberal order of peace and prosperity. I soon found out that some members of the College Republicans had a different view.
As can be seen in the screen shots of conversations that have emerged, some of these members often espoused nasty, pathetic, disgraceful, and morally repugnant beliefs. Some members were shockingly aggressive in their rhetoric.
I would be lying if I said that I was not deeply concerned. However, I found a few members who shared my concerns and we made common cause to try and rid the nastiness and pettiness from the club. We wanted to rebrand the Republican Party among students. We were eager for inclusivity and positive promotion while opposed to provocation and fomentation. We set out to instill change. That begins by calling out problems, of which there have been many. We did.
I have spoken out before, both publicly and privately, about transgressions of the organization. I was shocked when there were attempts by higher ups to silence me. I, along with some in the executive committee, attempted to reform the institution from the top down several times. These attempts were defeated, and to my surprise retaliation for speaking out was threatened. This revealed to me a deep-set institutional issue (I have recently been shocked at exactly how high up the institutional hierarchy such issues extend). Over the course of the year, I, along with others, have attempted to make quiet fixes to the organization at the institutional level in order to make amore inclusive environment. I felt that these quiet, resilient changes would be the way to best make meaningful and lasting reform. I was often discouraged, but deep down I felt we could make positive change for the organization.
Unfortunately, College Republicans had inappropriate members who spread disturbingly vicious and “edgy” jokes, antagonistic politics, and hateful views on the organization’s group message. These messages were truly racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, and bigoted. Several College Republicans called out and pushed back against the messages. Promisingly, these bad members, upon the urging of officers in the executive committee and myself, were removed. However, in a move that was equally disappointing, these members were then imprudently re-added—without the complete board’s consent, contrary to statements circulating around. Such a move completely ignored the concernsand disgusts of good members who made a stand.
I am saddened a handful of bad components of the organization have hijacked and damaged College Republicans in such a terrible way so as to hurt members of the community. I, along with many others, had great hopes for the club. We recognized its flaws but were eager to fix them. We were fighters for positive change; now, unfortunately, there is no degree of change that can fix the wrongs that have been made. That is why I resigned.
Lastly, to speak to the larger picture, I am completely aware these relentlessly antagonistic and tribal instincts have become a common perveance in my party from 2016 onward. As a young conservative, I wholeheartedly reject this trend of fear, nativism, and agitation in the GOP. I reject and abhor the blind sycophancy to politicians. I reject the harboring, defense, and propagation of nasty personalities.
Because I say this, some people will say that I am guilty of being unfair by critiquing only the Republican Party. They would rightly point out that both sides of the political spectrum similarly engage in hateful and incendiary rhetoric, viciously employ inflammatory politics, and divide for the purpose of electoral gain. To that I would say that I understand where they are coming from; however, I am a Republican. Therefore, I have a moral responsibility to address and fix some of the problems on my own side. That is just how I was raised. I would not be intellectually honest if I called out the other side for problems while ignoring the faults of my own. All I can say is this: each side of the political spectrum has to understand that the politics of rallying against a villainous “other,” of creating an “us versus them” narrative, is fundamentally corrosive to our spirit, our communities, and our democracy.
That being said, I want to offer this final assurance: the vitriol espoused by a few members does not represent the thoughts of the true Republican Party. As so often tragically happens, the loudest voices seem to have been heard over those everyday people who are just trying to do good quietly. I fully believe that the Republican Party, even College Republicans on campus, can revive and expand itself in the future by putting loyalty to principles over loyalty to personalities and exclusion. It can be revived by those everyday people, and for that reason I will not lose faith. I hope others will not either.
Joseph Howard is the former executive director of OU College Republicans.