by Sarah Nahrgang
This Monday and Tuesday, the Penn State College Republicans hosted their annual “Truth Week.” Lasting only two days, not a whole week, the series featured two speakers: Austin Petersen on Monday and Kimberly Corban on Tuesday. Being that College Republicans is a fairly large organization here at Penn State and nationwide, with chapters on over 1,800 campuses across the country, it was expected that these events would receive a decent turnout. Instead, attendance was quite low, with only about 50 students coming out to see Austin Petersen and a mere 20 students for Kimberly Corban. These numbers include board members of the CRs, hosting the events. Is this the best that College Republicans can do?
Founder of The Libertarian Republic and 2016 runner up for the Libertarian Party nomination for the Presidency of the United States, Austin Petersen, gave a speech titled, “The Cowardice of Safe Spaces and PC Culture,” on Monday, which was described in detail in a previous article, by Aidan Piombino-Mattis. Given the low attendance of 50 and the small room (201 Thomas – capacity of 94), Petersen spoke without a microphone. The 8 PM speech was rather short, taking only 30 minutes, with the remaining 30 minutes allocated for questions, most of which had nothing to do with free speech, safe spaces, or PC culture. Instead, attendees asked Petersen about his stances on conserving American culture, abortion, healthcare, climate change, space exploration, and other topics, as he is running for the Missouri Senate Seat as a Republican. After students had their chance to meet with Petersen personally and snap some pictures, the CR board members promptly left the room, neglecting to return the room’s furniture to its proper place or retract the projector screen.
The second speaker, Kimberly Corban, a sexual assault survivor, spoke about the importance of sexual assault awareness and prevention in her speech titled, “Victim to Survivor.” Details on the contents of the speech were written in a Daily Collegian article, by Cissy Ming. A “trigger warning” slide prefaced the talk, and two, female, campus police officers were placed in the room, to serve as crisis advocates in the event that the talk was traumatic. This comes as an ironic contrast to Petersen’s talk on PC culture the previous evening, as “trigger warnings” tend to be viewed as an unnecessary attempt to coddle the easily offended. Nonetheless, Corban insisted that “trigger warnings” for survivors of sexual assault and others with PTSD are not the same. Before she spoke, Corban played the 911 call she placed on the night of her sexual assault when she was 20 years old. It was powerful and moving. As she subsequently told her story of the events proceeding and following that phone call, Corban spoke with a true confidence that demonstrated how she is a survivor, not a victim. Corban went on to discuss consent, defend the 2nd Amendment, provide resources for sexual assault survivors, and take a few questions from the audience.
Corban’s speech was well executed on her end, but unfortunately, the CRs did not return the favor. Although the event was scheduled to begin at 8 PM, the CRs waited for 15 minutes for more people to show up, to no avail. Due to the low attendance, Corban spoke without her microphone. With only 20 students attending the talk, there were a lot of empty seats, as the room, 262 Willard, has a capacity of 130. The low attendance was quite embarrassing for the CRs, to say the least, and was a poor reflection on their ability to effectively advertise. Why was attendance so poor? Selecting a speaker such as Corban to talk about sexual assault seemed to pander to the left, especially in the wake of the trending hashtag, #metoo, on social media, which encouraged victims of sexual assault and harassment to speak out. This should have been a topic that attracted many college-aged women, and yet, the CRs were unsuccessful.
Compared to previous speaker series from years prior, “Truth Week 2017” was a disappointment and far from a demonstration of hard truths, as the name would imply. This lack of support seems to be a growing trend for the College Republicans recently, as it is not the only conservative political group on campus. Most notably, the Bull Moose Party (formerly, We Are for Trump) and Turning Point USA, both new Penn State organizations as of last year, have been gaining a footing on campus. The Bull Moose Party formed as an offshoot of CRs, when they refused to endorse the Republican Presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump. Their main goal before the election was to campaign on behalf of now-President Trump, and since then, they have been active in supporting his cause to “Make America Great Again.” Turning Point USA, on the other hand, is not affiliated with any political party and endorses no candidates; rather, the club exists to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”
Many of the same students participate in these three clubs, and poorly executed speaker series such as “Truth Week 2017” may lend credence to more students reducing their involvement in CRs and focusing their attention on these new, growing organizations. But the Bull Moose Party and Turning Point USA are smaller groups than the College Republicans. They have significantly less funding and resources than the CRs, who should be more than capable of hosting large speaker series, like they did in April 2016, by filling 121 Sparks (capacity of 347) for Ben Shapiro. So many people came out to see Shapiro, that they had to close the doors and turn people away. Protests broke out among leftist students just outside the doors, and they could be heard chanting in the lecture hall. This is the kind of attention that “Truth Week” events should draw, hundreds of supporters and protesters alike. Instead, “Truth Week 2017” sparked no controversy and drew no crowds.
Media coverage of these events is what really matters, and smaller, tamer speakers just don’t get the job done. Ben Shapiro was a great example of the kind of impactful speakers the CRs need, and Milo Yiannopoulos would have been an enormously successful event as well, if his speech wasn’t cancelled last year. The Penn State College Republicans need to step up their game if they want more support and a greater reach. Instead of playing it safe by hosting speakers that “may” attract folks on both sides of the isle, they need to host bigger names to express the hard truths of American conservatism.