College

A Republican at Berkeley: What it's really like

Jonathan Chow

As a member of the Berkeley College Republican club, I table everyday – which means I sit at a table on campus and try to recruit new members, have discussions with passersby, and expose Berkeley to the Republican platform. One day this past semester, though, I was sitting at the club table reading for my classes when I was approached by a red-haired woman who appeared as if she was dying to get something off her chest. I greeted her with the common salutation, “Hi there, can I help you ma’am?” From there, the conversation immediately declined.

In addition to verbally insulting my heritage – I am a Hispanic-Asian – she insisted that it was people like me who were making this country disgusting and an uninhabitable land. After she had finished venting to me, I smiled and simply replied as I do to all who would say the same, “Thank you. You have a nice day.”

That’s a pretty typical interaction between Republicans and the rest of liberal Berkeley.

It was my goal to meet open-minded individuals who had opposing views to that of mine, and would be welcoming of intellectual conversations on various hot-button topics. After having been at UC Berkeley for three years now, I am greatly disappointed.

I knew I was a Republican from the time of the Bush presidency (W., that is). That was when I was still in middle school in a predominantly “blue” city--Miami, Florida--where I attended liberal-leaning schools all the way through high school. At a young age I realized how fond I was of debates and discussions about politics. That’s part of what helped me in my decision-making process when selecting a university to attend. It was my goal to meet open-minded individuals who had opposing views to that of mine, and would be welcoming of intellectual conversations on various hot-button topics. After having been at UC Berkeley for three years now, I am greatly disappointed.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, BCR has a bad name on campus, and it’s not just for being full of Republicans. It originates from those who wish to seek publicity through ego-driven stunts that actually detract from what we should be trying to accomplish on campus. For instance, instead of calling ourselves the Free Speech Movement only for the cameras, we should actually become the Free Speech Movement by calling for legislators to protect our First Amendment right. BCR has also pushed for a lawsuit to be filed against the university in the hopes of granting us the freedom to invite high-profile speakers to the campus. However, the lawsuit has done nothing to remedy that situation and has been dragged out to soak up media attention. Our lawyers should be frantically pushing the envelope and getting us our freedom as soon as possible so that we may once again invite speakers to our campus without the infringement of the administration.

Our club, as with all clubs, is not perfect. I remain a member because I want to change BCR from the inside for the better. And until certain attention-seeking colleagues of mine and the angry liberals around me realize how far they have fallen, I remain a moderate stuck in the middle, fighting for reasonable discussion on two fronts.

It is obvious that Republicans at Berkeley are a minority and may never have a majority. That is not my intention though. Right now, the first step is simply getting the word “Republican” to be tolerated. The way things are now, I feel reluctant in expressing my political opinions in class or in professional settings as it could be detrimental to my education. There are certain departments on campus that I know are not welcoming to conservative students. After all, I was physically attacked by a Graduate Student Instructor employed by UC Berkeley. If he is willing to try and do me physical harm, what is stopping him from tampering with my grades? So, for now, I choose to be silent in the classroom. But I hope it’s not like that forever.

I merely want to listen to people who are interested in calmly deliberating their political opinions--even those that are different from my own--and backing their thoughts with facts and sources. But that can’t happen as long as people on campus treat “Republican” like it’s a dirty word.

And yet, I have hope. Every so often, when I spend all day tabling on Sproul Plaza, there are some individuals who will come up to me and engage in a lively conversation -- a real conversation. We’ll go back and forth on the ethics of abortion, or global warming, or gun regulations, for hours at a time. In some cases, we start agreeing and coming up with new ideas on how to tackle these issues. And in these moments, it feels like the UC Berkeley I originally came for. 

Jonathan Chow is a second-generation immigrant who grew up in Miami, Florida. His mother was born in Havana, Cuba and his father in Canton, China – both fled to the US as teenagers. He is a student at UC Berkeley majoring in early modern intellectual history.