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A Sharp Shift to the New Right For Campus Conservatives

By D. RICHARD De silva

Throughout the 1960s, college campuses were the center of liberal activism. In 1969, Harvard undergraduates stormed University Hall to protest the Vietnam War and to demand the school dissociate itself from the Pentagon and weapons research.

But a new Harvard appears to be shaping up in the 1990s as moderate--or even conservative--on social and political issues. A 1991 rally protesting the Persian Gulf War, for example, only drew about 50 students.

In the past four years, conservative student groups have multiplied. With this proliferation has been a marked shift to the far Right and a more active stance and strategy.

Harvard's new conservative movement does not trace its roots to the old Establishment-type conservatism which characterized the campus in the early part of the century, say some conservative student group members.

Instead, the new conservative movement focuses on a basic family-oriented, Judaeo-Christian-based doctrine which is meaningful at all strata of society, they say.

"Our movement is grounded in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Abraham Lincoln," says Matthew J. McDonald '92, co-founder of the Peninsula. "But it emanates from the sort of street-corner conservatism, that you'll find in families, say, of South Boston who have never read these guys."

Founded two years ago, organizations such conservative monthly journal Peninsula and the Association Against Learning in the Absence of Religion and Morality (AALARM) have forced Harvard conservatism to more extreme levels.

The extremism and high-profile strategy of Peninsula and AALARM has drawn national attention, stealing the political staging ground from the liberal student groups.

And since their inception in 1989, the two groups have forged a symbiotic relationship, spearheading the new conservative movement at Harvard.

AALARM is the "active wing," according to cofounder Kenneth D. DeGiorgio '92, sponsoring vigorous campaigns like the "family values" protest last year, when AALARM marked Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day by postering over pink triangles with its own "traditional" blue squares.

AALARM also campaigned last year to reduce the University Health Services' funding of abortions. Some of AALARM's members have participated in Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion campaign which attempts to physically prevent women from using family planning clinics.

Peninsula, however, adopts a more intellectual approach, claiming to use "rational discourse" to support similar stances to AALARM's.

Though pegged by moderates as anti-political correctness neoconservatives, leaders of both groups insist that they draw their rhetoric from across a wide spectrum of conservative thought and defy labeling.

AALARM claims allegiance to the traditional values of the old Right, according to its new president Robert K. Wasinger '94.

But the 50-member group espouses much of the religious social dogma--particularly an abhorrence of homosexuality--now associated with the New Right movement of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

AALARM, which takes a strong anti-abortion and anti-gay rights stand, has sparked a national movement of its own. AALARM National currently has 35 chapters nationwide.

"People are becoming conservative because more and more every day they are seeing the traditions that they were raised with sloughed off," says Wasinger, explaining his group's popularity. "They don't want to see their morals sacrificed to the liberal whims of a vocal minority on the national level."

Wasinger claims that AALARM's extreme views have encouraged many moderates to become more conservative.

"AALARM has pushed the boundaries on the right side far enough out so that people in the middle can move to the right without fear of being ostracized by the community at large," he says.

But Wasinger insists that AALARM's main goal is not to ease the stigma for moderate conservatives but rather to pursue its own extreme agenda.

"If we can make people move to the right, then we have triumphed," says Wasinger. "If we can make them believe what we believe, then we have triumphed even more."

In the past, AALARM has been criticized for its strong but allegedly simplistic views, the brash manners of its leaders and its sometimes zealous--some say offensive--strategy.

"They don't expand on their ideas enough," says Emil Michael '94, president of the Harvard Republican Club. "They say something without defending themselves."

Even Peninsula leaders concede that AALARM has erred at times. "Firm convictions. Good intentions. Sometimes they make mistakes," says Mc-Donald.

While AALARM leaders dismissed accusations of having superficial positions, McDonald says it is an inevitable and unfortunate characteristic of a club whose primary focus is challenging a purported liberal majority.

And while AALARM acts as an activist group generating publicity for the new conservative agenda, Peninsula says it develops reasoned arguments to support AALARM.

"They are the phalanx of the conservative movement," says Roger J. Landry '92, a Peninsula council member and co-founder. "We would be the philosophical command central."

The Other Side of the Right

While AALARM and Peninsula are roughly on the same ideological wavelength, more moderate--and older--conservative groups like the Harvard Republican Club and the Salient differ from them substantially.

These organizations do not present a coherent radical voice. Instead they are groups in which students of varying degrees of conservatism express themselves.

The 130-member Republican Club provides a forum for conservatives of different stripes to debate policy issues under a partisan umbrella and occasionally to produce reports on specific issues like Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

The club focuses primarily on fiscal issues, such as ROTC and the line-item veto, rather than social issues.

Even broader in its concerns is the Salient, a monthly journal, which embraces libertarians and "thinking liberals" in its ranks, says Jendi B. Reiter '93, a Salient editor.

Another conservative student group, the Conservative Club, serves a different function. Members discuss works of major conservative writers, says Sumner E. Anderson '92, the organization's president.

But Landry questions the credentials of those who claim to be conservative but differ with the traditional stances of Peninsula.

"If there are huge differences among conservative groups on campus, I would say that one or the other is conservative and one or the other isn't," says Landry.

He defines "conservatism" to encompass five basic tenets: strong national defense, respect for traditional values, respect for the free market, limited government and respect for personal freedoms, "within limits."

But all self-described conservative campus groups, from Salient to AALARM, fall under this definition. It is in the area of social reform that these groups differ. Perhaps the fundamental criterion which divides these groups is gay rights.

AALARM and Peninsula are vehemently against gay rights. They call homosexuality "abhorrent" and believe homosexuals should be barred from the military.

The Republican Club, however, recently came out denouncing the military's discrimination against homosexuals, although it maintains Harvard should maintain ties with ROTC.

Landry also attacked the Salient, saying it does not adequately tackle social issues and that it sends a very "nebulous message."

McDonald and Landry note that the Salient has deviated significantly from what are generally considered conservative position by publishing articles criticizing the pro-life movement and supporting gay rights and divestment from South Africa.

Yet despite these differences, the conservative student groups have overlapping membership--Anderson, for instance, is a former president of the Republican club and a supporter of Peninsula.

Conservative campus leaders say the reason they are so loud and active is because the campus is, to a great extent, tacitly liberal.

Conservatives at Harvard "suffer from an Alex P. Keaton image--uncaring, unfeeling, concerned for money only," says Michael.

"That's a very unfair characterization," he says.

As the stigma of this image has lessened in recent years, the Republicans have grown to "two or three times larger than the [Harvard- Radcliffe] Democrats," says Michael.

While Michael concedes the majority of the Harvard campus is liberal, he claims that there is a large silent conservative" group which does not participate in campus politics.

Landry attacked the liberal majority which stands in judgement of his beliefs.

"Some of the people I considered myself friends with, as soon as they realized I was going to be an active conservative changed their views of me," he says.

Landry went further, claiming that the campus and the administrations subject conservatives to a "double-standard" from liberals.

"[Conservatives] are put under scruples that I believe the rest of the campus is not put under," says Landry.

In particular, Landry says the administration allows organizations on the extreme left like the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students Association (BGLSA) and the Organization for the Advancement of Sexual Minorities (ORGASM) to get away with tactics used by AALARM, for which it was reprimanded.

"I think there is an inherent complicity on the part of the Harvard administration to capitulate to people on the left] "says Landry. "And [people on the left] know it."

"[BGLSA] is assumed to have substance while AALARM is assumed to not have substance," adds McDonald.

Conservatives and the University

Landry claims that Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III is among those discriminating against conservative groups.

"For some leftists in 1969 to walk into [the Dean of Students'] office, literally lift him off his desk, carry him down backwards down the steps of University Hall and not to get any disciplinary action is silly," adds Landry, referring to a much-publicized event during the takeover of University Hall. "If a bunch of conservatives were to do the same thing, they would've been tossed out a long time ago."

Epps refuses to respond specifically to Landry's allegations, but insists he has been "fairly evenhanded" in dealing with different campus groups.

"The college environment must be based on tolerance and civility," he says. "Those principles should be applied across the political spectrum."

"Some students may object to the fact that I state my views on issues," adds the dean.

The 'Pragmatic' Generation

The growing conservatism on Harvard's campus may reflect a national trend towards the right among America's youth.

The popular press recently has embarked on broad characterizations of the college-age generation, from "the lonely generation" to "the 'fuck you' generation."

Epps says he believes the trend towards conservatism is not a reflection of cynicism or a jaded world view but rather a new sense of pragmatism.

Landry agrees with Epps that the college-age generation is not cynical, but says students are more realistic about the results of their efforts.

"The natures of young people may not have changed that much, but our perception of reality has changed," says Landry.

"People have grown up from the 60s," says Landry. "They realize it's just a show and that nothing is going to happen."

Landry says the kind of liberal demonstrations that characterized the volatile campus atmosphere at Harvard in the 1960s are symbols of a bygone era.

"[Students] want to spend their time a little bit better than just going out and trying cry-baby knee-jerk tactics," he says.

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