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Panelists Discuss Challenges of Being Both Conservative and Minority

Touting President Bush’s record and joking about the safety of conservatives on campus, panelists of various racial and ethnic backgrounds gathered with about 30 students yesterday to discuss the challenge of being both conservative and a minority.

“The only time I think about being an African-American is when I get up in the morning to shave, when I look in the mirror,” said Robert Traynham, deputy staff director for the Senate Republican Conference. “Being black has nothing to do with my job—zero.”Minority student groups such as the Asian American Association and Fuerza Latina met with their respective panelists in a dinner held before the panel discussion. Notably missing, however, was the Black Students Association (BSA).

According to Harvard Republican Club (HRC) spokesperson and President-elect Mark T. Silverstri ’05, the BSA initially agreed to the meeting but then abruptly stopped responding to HRC communication.

“There was hesitation to co-sponsor this event because we did not know the details of the event,” said BSA President Olamipe Okunseinde ’04, who confirmed that the groups had exchanged e-mail. “The BSA would never withhold...getting a perspective from various ideological or political beliefs.”

The panel discussion went forward as planned, sponsored officially only by the HRC and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. Harvard Foundation Advisory Board member and Senior Admissions Officer David L. Evans moderated the event.

“Through this kind of dialogue, we can discover that all Democrats are not knee-jerk, vicarious thrill-seeking, bleeding heart, left-wing beatniks. And that all Republicans are not all the way to the right that they’ve come around back to the left,” Evans said.

Humor about Harvard’s political leanings dominated the event.

“Bless all of you college Republicans, especially here at this campus,” Traynham said. “I wore my bullet-proof vest.”

Evans spoke of a man he met on the street who asked him whether Republicans were safe at Harvard.

Panelist Abel Guerra, the associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, explained his reasons for joining the Republican Party as a Hispanic male.

“All Democrats are not bad people,” Guerra said. “I became a Republican because I believe in picking yourself up by the bootstraps and doing things on your own.”

Criticism from the crowd mostly came from Eric S. Fish ’07, a Democrat, who challenged the panelists to defend the issue of support for the Confederate flag and anti-gay sentiment within the party.

“Those who are romantic about the Confederate flag, that’s our base. We need their support; this upcoming election is going to be close,” Traynham said.

As for gays in the Republican party, Traynham said, “I have a lot of friends who happen to be gay.”

Traynham spoke about his days at a historically black college, where he said conservative views were in the minority. He recalled a presentation he gave in class on Ronald Reagan and said, “I was looked at like I was a transsexual.”

HRC Outreach Director Candice Chiu ’04 coordinated the event to highlight what she called “a perspective that is overlooked and under-respresented.”

Evans said he hopes discussions like last night’s will raise awareness that people’s political beliefs cannot be predicted by the color of their skin.

“There is an assumption that if you are a member of color, you are of a particular party,” he said. “The Democrats and the Republicans are more diverse than the McCarthy clan of the Midwest.”