With more than 300 dues-paying members, the College Republicans of UW–Madison is one of the organization’s largest chapters in the country. Chair Jake Lubenow x’18 is tasked with navigating the group through a time of heightened political tension. Despite bringing in high-profile conservatives — including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and House Speaker Paul Ryan — the students keep a low profile on campus.
What’s the main priority for the College Republicans?
During an election season, we go to all the call centers and [we] knock [on] doors. [Other conservative student] groups are much more activism based. They’re about convincing people that conservative ideals are better. Our goal is to get Republican leaders elected.
How does your experience as a conservative differ from a liberal on campus?
A great example is that you see the College Democrats on every street corner on Election Day, and they’re [setting up tables] everywhere. We do it much more quietly. We can’t put posters in dorms, because we’re afraid that people will show up at our meeting and yell at us. I think, as a conservative, you just have to be a lot more mindful of your surroundings. There are people in our [organization] who have roommates who don’t talk to them anymore after this past election. I’ve had friends block me from Facebook.
How do you reconcile feelings of pride in your institution with frustrations of being on a campus where you feel like your viewpoints are in the minority?
I grew up a Badger. My [family members have] always been Badger fans. I’ve always looked at the school as something larger than the administration, students, and people in the city. I actually think alumni have a huge part in that. I believe we’re rated one of the best in terms of how alumni help students in school and once they get out.
College Republicans and College Democrats seem to have a very cordial relationship, despite opposing goals. Why is that?
We had a debate last semester. [College Democrats Chair] Augie [McGinnity-Wake] and I had closing statements about rectifying the problems that we have on campus with discourse. And we both said, “At the end of the day, Republicans and Democrats have the same goals. We both want the country to be a better place for everyone. … It’s just that our methods of getting to that point are very different.” That conversation is a lot more productive than us playing identity politics and me saying, “You’re a communist,” and him saying, “You’re a racist.” Augie is also just a nice person — we’re really good friends. That just comes from having an open mind and not judging people based on their [political] beliefs, but judging them as human beings and getting to know them.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Preston Schmitt ’14
Published in the Summer 2017 issue