Junior Elliott Engen knew that there were a wide variety of political viewpoints among Pipers, but saw few places where conservative students like himself could congregate. After becoming involved earlier this fall with Bethel University’s chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a right-wing student organization, he decided to bring the group closer to home. Now, as of this month, TPUSA has a chapter at Hamline.
“We see that there is diversity of thought here on campus,” Engen, the chapter’s president, said. “Maybe it’s not getting enough attention… and we thought we would maybe give an opportunity for students who don’t have necessarily left-leaning viewpoints… to be able to express their ideas.”
TPUSA was launched in 2012 by then-18-year-old Charlie Kirk of Illinois, but its prominence has grown since the 2016 presidential election. Today it is active on more than 1,200 college and high school campuses.
Officially, TPUSA’s purpose is to promote fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government among students. The webpage for Hamline’s new chapter states a similar aim.
“We believe it’ll be a good place for everyone to just kind of share their ideas…without being judged,” said sophomore Michael Vickman, the chapter’s secretary. “I would say I’m socially a liberal person, but fiscally I’m a conservative person… there’s a lot of things that I disagree with from the conservative side, and that’s okay. Me and [Engen] have a lot of discussions about it.”
Engen highlighted his and Vickman’s differences of opinion as an example of the evolution of the conservative movement, seeking to combat stereotypes that students may have.
“I like to think that [commentator and YouTuber] Ben Shapiro, [former TPUSA communications director] Candace Owens, [TPUSA founder] Charlie Kirk, they more represent where the conservative base is going,” Engen said. “They’re swaying more progressive socially… abortion’s basically the only [issue] that would really be possibly still pressed, as well as the transgender movement.”
On a broader scale, TPUSA has been involved in numerous controversies. Several prominent employees of the national org have resigned or been fired after usage of racist or culturally insensitive language became public, and the group has been accused of offering forbidden assistance to candidates for student government.
Owens, who no longer works for TPUSA but is still affiliated with them, came under fire last year for remarks at a conference that could be taken as praise of Hitler. On Twitter, she has stated that anyone who burns a U.S. flag should be stripped of citizenship and suggested that something is “bio-chemically” wrong with unmarried, childless women, tagging several liberal female comedians to support her idea.
“All of these things will be highlighted on Wikipedia because they like to stir up these controversies,” Engen said. “90 percent of them have been completely taken care of. They have nothing to do with us. I don’t need to distance myself from them, because Turning Point has already distanced themselves from them.”
TPUSA’s most well-known project is perhaps the Professor Watchlist, which was launched in November 2016 “to expose professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” The website, which features about 200 instructors from across the country accused of left-wing bias, was critiqued by many as McCarthyism and a threat to academic freedom.
“That wasn’t something that was given the OK,” Engen said. “[Professor Watchlist] happened at a couple different universities, small universities. Turning Point — it wasn’t their idea.”
In actuality, Professor Watchlist was launched by Charlie Kirk on Twitter and promoted by him in a since-deleted blog post.
“We won’t be partaking in that. We love all our professors here on campus,” Engen said.
He stated that controversy provided new opportunities for discussion and wants the chapter to fundamentally be about dialogue, similar to Hamline student org The Marketplace of Ideas.
“Marketplace of Ideas is a place for us to come together and talk about these ideas, similar to Turning Point, but Turning Point actually has taken stances on stuff,” Engen said. “You’re going to see our poster, ‘Big Gov Sucks.’ We’re going to give you reasons for that. We’re going to show why maybe we feel the need for a border wall. We’re going to show maybe why we think that stances such as the socialist agenda [aren’t] for America.”
Engen condemned racism within TPUSA, pointing to a recent event where Kirk had an attendee removed for making statements with white supremacist undertones.
“He sent him straight out of the room, and we will do the exact same thing. We can all agree on one thing, the alt-right sucks,” Engen said. “Richard Spencer, denounced. David Duke, denounced. These bad people that we do not want associated with Turning Point, they’re out of here.”
The faculty advisor for Hamline’s chapter of TPUSA is political science professor David Schultz, who also advises the College Democrats. Schultz says that his role with both groups is mainly limited to giving the green light on meeting rooms.
“Every viewpoint is deserving of representation on campus,” Schultz said. “I may or may not personally agree with what any of them have to say… but I do think at a university, a diversity of viewpoints should be expressed.”
The chapter is officially established after being certified by TPUSA’s local field representative and HUSC. They have received marketing materials from the national organization and have access to funding opportunities through the national organization.
Hamline’s chapter of TPUSA currently receives no funding from Hamline or HUSC. The first meeting will take place on Friday, Dec. 6, with the room to be determined.