Athens County has voted for the Democratic candidate for president since 1976. On Ohio University’s campus, it may seem like liberal attitudes dominate. But Democrats are not the only students with big opinions this election cycle.
Rebecca Thacker, a professor in the school of business, said the Republican Party used to have a big presence in Athens. She previously served as the acting chair of the Athens County Republican Party, a group she joined because she believes getting involved in politics can create real change.
“The party’s just not doing as much as it should to fight the liberal agenda,” Thacker said. “There used to be a stronger infrastructure through the party and the people in the town. We don’t really have anyone out there speaking for us anymore.”
But Republicans on campus have proven not all college-aged conservatives have given up the fight. With the presidential election approaching, they are making their voices heard. From protests to phone banking, conservatives are doing all they can to ensure Donald Trump is the next president.”
Protesters make their voices heard
Former President Bill Clinton’s visit to campus last week, during which he campaigned for his wife, attracted more than just Hillary supporters.
The Ohio University College Republicans had protesters both inside and outside the rally. Those inside stood together in a peaceful demonstration, while those outside marched around the perimeter with Trump signs.
“We want to see the opposing view. We’re here to send a message that this is ridiculous,” said junior Sarah Dougherty. “I think it’s ridiculous that her husband is here campaigning for her. If you want to campaign in a college town, go there yourself.”
Junior Josie Hammon added Clinton’s failure to make a personal appearance was especially offensive considering Athens is one of the poorest counties in Ohio. Clinton visited Athens last May during the primaries.
The group stressed they were not promoting violence or disruption — simply sending a message. A student helping with the event approached the protesters to make sure they did not have any signs and told them to “be polite, be respectful.”
“No violence here, just peaceful protest,” junior Joe Pergolizzi said in response.
With Trump signs banned from the event, Pergolizzi showed his support for Trump in a different way — he wore a T-shirt that read: “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica.” He said he wore the shirt to protest the former president’s exploitation of women.
Other protesters echoed this sentiment, with several members of College Republicans calling it hypocritical of Clinton to send her husband on the campaign trail when he has a history of treating women poorly.
“Hillary is very for the feminist movement and empowering women, and she sends her husband out to fight for her, who has sexually assaulted women,” OUCRs President David Parkhill said.
Bailey Williams, a freshman Ohio University College Democrats member who introduced former President Clinton at the rally, said people should not judge former Secretary Clinton based on her husband, whose actions reflected a lack of judgement and bad character more than overt sexism.
“Trump supporters always call out the Clinton marriage, but they refuse to look at Donald Trump, who cheated on two wives and then divorced them before marrying another one. He is accused of raping a 15-year-old girl, so if you’re going to call out one, look at the other too,” Williams said.
History professor Katherine Jellison addressed concerns about former President Clinton as well, saying while his past involvement with women is a valid discussion point, students should not expect the Democratic candidate to personally campaign everywhere.
“Every campaign is going to send its surrogates… she can’t be everywhere at once,” Jellison said.
The Republicans at the campaign event made their case for why Trump should be elected instead of Clinton, citing economics and national security.
“He can control money, and that’s what we need right now. We need to get our money situation under control before we can do anything else,” Hammon said.
Parkhill praised Trump for his outsider status and said he will give college students a future.
“Hillary’s a very crooked leader, and it’s just more classic Washington,” he said. “Trump is going to go in and break the mold, clean house and keep the productive people where they are, kick unproductive bureaucrats out who are just wasting tax dollars, and he’s going to secure the country.”
However, several College Republicans acknowledged Trump’s campaign has room for improvement, especially with regard to his temperament.
“I would say he’s more qualified in the sense that he actually knows what’s going on and he’s honest, but he does need a little work on shutting his mouth,” Dougherty said.
“If you look at the beginning of his campaign to right now, he’s already calmed down, he’s learned when to keep his mouth shut. So I think it will get better and better as he rises on. As president, I think he’ll learn what he can say and can’t say, and what he needs to filter out,” Hammon said.
Thacker disputed the claim that Trump has an issue with his temperament, saying the attention on him is because the “liberal media is looking for anything they can find” to make him look bad.
“Donald Trump has never been a politician… it’s scary to the establishment on both sides,” Thacker said.
Demonstrators from the other side of the political spectrum attended the Clinton rally as well. One, wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, interrupted Clinton’s speech by shouting he would not vote for a candidate who had “sent millions of my people to prison.”
One person in the crowd also interrupted former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who spoke before Clinton, yelling Strickland was 15 points behind in his Senate race against incumbent Sen. Rob Portman.
OUCRs, who stayed quiet during the event, were allowed to stay. However, the Black Lives Matter supporter was escorted out by police.
Conservatives feel discriminated against on liberal campus
Despite their attempts to be respectful to other ideologies, members of OUCRs said people judge them unfairly based on their political views.
“We’re not racist, we’re not sexist, we’re not homophobic, we’re not xenophobic,” Dougherty said. “People just automatically assume that we’re all these things, and they don’t even know us, and we’re actually more peaceful than College Dems. We don’t promote violence of any sort, nothing like that.”
Members asserted that they were harassed at the Clinton event for supporting Trump. Several agreed before Bill Clinton spoke that the event would likely become rowdy, and they should leave before it got too bad for fear of being “jumped.”
Williams acknowledged the liberal attitude is pervasive on campus but said the university has places for all political beliefs.
“You don’t necessarily have to be constantly bombarded with that liberal vibe,” Williams said. “There are places you can go if you’re conservative, and you’ll feel welcome and accepted.”
Thacker, meanwhile, discussed the hostility that conservatives on campus, both professors and students, experience on a daily basis.
“If you’re conservative, you are not very popular,” Thacker said.
Thacker said in conversations with students, feeling silenced is a common theme. She claimed rhetoric against conservatives, exemplified in Clinton calling Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables,” is pervasive among liberals because they cannot articulate an agenda for positive change.
In the past, Thacker has been called racist by colleagues and heard stories from students whose grades were affected because they spoke out against liberal ideologies in class. She calls this a “double standard” in the university and said the environment should be open to all viewpoints.
“They label people, so if you try to have an intellectual argument or discussion, they can’t respond. So they just start interrupting, they start talking over you, they start calling you names, and they pick on these things that have absolutely nothing to do with policy and what a president can do to help a country,” she said.
One year, Thacker wore a campaign button to class, a student complained, and Thacker was told that she was no longer allowed to wear the button in the classroom. But after contacting university legal counsel, she affirmed this was a violation of the First Amendment.
“People think nothing of violating your free speech if you’re saying something they don’t like,” Thacker said.
Jellison pointed out that the liberal climate here is not unique to Athens, but a common side effect of large universities dominating a town. She said among professors, there is a level of “self-selection” that makes college faculty typically lean left of center.
“People who see conservative ideals as their main political priorities are going to gravitate toward professions where those ideas are very prominent,” Jellison said.
The innovative environment of a university, where there is tendency to explore ideas outside the norm, also contributes to the lack of conservative voices on campus, according to Jellison.
Williams said, as a Democrat, he tries to look past party divides and realize not everyone supports candidates for the same reason. He said while he may despise Trump, he does not let those feelings extend to Trump’s supporters.
“You shouldn’t hate someone for who they support politically, you need to look at who they are as a person,” Williams said. “People don’t believe everything that Trump believes. You should hold a healthy dialogue with the person who disagrees with you.”
Ultimately, conservatives on campus want people to know they are more than their politics.
“I’ve been called so many names just for wearing a T-shirt and supporting someone,” Pergolizzi said.
Hammon called the campus “super prejudiced” against Republicans and said people she knew would not speak to her because she was holding a Trump sign.
“It comes down to respect and it’s very hypocritical that liberals say they’re open-minded, they’re respectful, when I’ve had 20 people be disrespectful to me,” Dougherty said.
Why women should vote for Trump
This election has had its fair share of scandals with candidates from both parties. Trump’s campaign has been criticized for a number of offensive comments about Latinos, African Americans, immigrants, Muslims and women. Most recently, a tape was released that showed Trump saying he “just starts kissing (women)…I don’t even wait” and that he can “grab them by the p—y.”
While some think his comments are out of line, they still support Trump for other reasons.
“I do think some of his comments are a bit harsh… I don’t support some of his views on women, I don’t support the comments he’s made about people, but at least he hasn’t physically done anything,” Dougherty said. Trump is accused of mistreating women in at least 20 lawsuits.
“It’s not about women or men. Hillary Clinton is literally unfit to be president,” Hammon said. “It has nothing to do with gender, honestly.”
Thacker, who proudly wears a “Women for Trump/Pence” button, took a different approach to the topic. She said women should vote for Trump because he will better serve their interests, and most critics cannot name specific instances in which Trump has displayed sexism.
She named three main points women should examine when considering their vote: national security, education and economics.
Women want their children and families to be safe, Thacker said, and he wants to build the military. Trump is also for school choice, which Thacker said is important to women who are concerned about their children’s education. She also argued women are “great entrepreneurs” and need a president who understands business.
“Women would be able to start small businesses if we would get business-friendly policies in this country,” she said. “All Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to do is increase taxes and spend more and more of the taxpayers’ money on things that have absolutely nothing to do with growing the economy.”
Thacker said the real-world effects of current economic policies are actually devastating to women and families.
In response to Trump’s repeated criticism of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado’s weight, which made headlines last month, Thacker said his comments were justified.
“A Miss Universe is supposed to maintain her svelte appearance,” she said. “Isn’t that why she was Miss Universe? I see that no differently than giving your employee a performance review. To extrapolate from one situation and say he’s sexist is way too great an inferential leap.”
Instead of focusing on his words, Thacker highlighted Trump’s actions that show he is pro-woman. She said in upper-level positions in Trump’s businesses, women actually outnumber men, and he is committed to giving women upward mobility.
Thacker also attacked Clinton’s actions as president, and his wife’s subsequent involvement in delegitimizing some of the claims against him. Because of this, Thacker argued former Secretary Clinton is actually more sexist than Trump.
Jellison, however, defended Clinton, saying she acted on the information she had at the time.
“She believed her husband and thought these were people who were paid by her husband’s political enemies,” Jellison said. She noted that Trump has done little to prove he is not sexist, and said if it were a priority, his campaign should have done a better job of making it known.
In fact, she claimed Trump himself has “created a women’s issue” and set a tone that legitimizes sexist rhetoric. If he were to be elected, Jellison believes there could be real repercussions for how women are treated because his viewpoint and language would have a trickle-down effect.
Despite a strong base of Clinton supporters at OU, the opposition feels strongly about their case for Donald Trump.
“Look at the facts. Look at more than just MSNBC and CNN, read other news sources,” Parkhill said. “Hillary is not everything she’s cracked up to be. Trump is going to give you a future… Trump has not necessarily made the point to vote for him, but Hillary has definitely made the point not to vote for her.”