Where are all the political student groups on campus?

At MIT, single-issue clubs thrive where College Dems and Republicans withered

Where are MIT’s Campus Republicans and Campus Democrats? Two well-known groups are missing from MIT’s tremendous array of campus organizations, political or otherwise — College Democrats and College Republicans. Both organizations founded chapters in the late 1990s, but in only a little over a decade later, both are defunct. The website for MIT College Democrats carries a copyright of 2004, and the listed co-presidents of the club graduated in 2007. MIT College Republicans’ website has suffered a similar fate, last updated in February 2003.

It is clear that MIT students have opinions, so why can’t these groups thrive?

“It has something to do with the culture,” said Charles B. Barr ’13, who, along with several other undergraduate and graduate students, attempted to re-start MIT College Democrats last year. “MIT students are interested in politics but don’t want to make it their thing. They’re busy working on their UROP or some sort of project rather than campaigning. They think, ‘Hey, politics isn’t something that gets stuff done, it has mostly negative outcomes’.”

After the organization tapered off in the early 2000s, Barr and his colleagues aimed to establish a leadership structure for College Democrats. They talked to other college College Democrats, including the Harvard University, Boston University, and Suffolk University chapters.

Despite their efforts, though, the work re-starting and maintaining the club was too much for the students to keep up with.

Christopher B. Buenrostro ’04, former president of College Republicans, added that MIT’s political groups relied on significant time investment from the members to ma­intain. “Bal­ancing ac­
ademics and volunteer hours for a club or organization can be more than challenging, as any MIT student will tell you … there needs to be a driving support from the club leaders in any organization, and this driving support was not strong enough when [former president] Gillian Harding ’05 left,” he said.

Keith Yost G, former vice president of College Republicans (also a Tech columnist), added that there are many other outlets for students to be politically active in ways requiring less direct responsibility. “There is a variety of other outlets students can join up with that are unrelated to MIT but accessible. If there’s a Scott Brown campaign already out there, it’s easier for me to do that than to start a new effort at MIT,” he said.

Buenrostro and Yost said that College Republicans did very well under the leadership of Harding, but those left in the organization after her graduation could not invest as much time as she had into maintaining the club.

Barr and Buenrostro are optimistic that eventually students with the time and dedication to restart the College Democrats and College Republicans could be successful. “Ma­ybe if someone who kn­o­ws how to network gets invol­ved, [starting the group] could happen. But it relies on an individual who has the time and capability to make the club grow to be successful,” said Barr.

“College Republicans will undoubtedly return in the future,” said Buenrostro. He shares a similar perspective to Barr on the importance of leadership. “Whether the club can be maintained will be strongly dependent on sound infrastructure for the local chapter provided by dedicated and capable leaders whom can get the ball rolling and keep it doing so.”

He hopes to see campus political groups of all leanings flourish in the future.

“One of the beautiful parts of college is finding out what you believe versus what you were taught to believe … I personally hold a strong belief in the necessity for multiple political organizations on campus to allow various beliefs to be explored and debated,” he said.