Sunday afternoon I was pleased to sit down and meet with the presidents of a club, one of whom suggests, “people don’t know it exists.” Frank Fusco, ’19, and Charles Harker, ’19, are co-presidents of Bates College Republicans. The club can be characterized as the proverbial “black sheep” of Bates clubs — the organization does not set up tables in Commons or the Fireplace Lounge, was absent at 2018’s Fall Club Fair, and has not solely hosted a speaker since 2016. Despite the lack of public support for conservative values, Fusco and Harker remain steadfast in their views.
Fusco and Harker arrived at the same ideological destination, though each had a unique way of getting there. Harker attributes his viewpoints to the upbringing he received in a family full of Republican values. “My mom’s side, my dad’s side, both of their parents were Republican,” he says. However, Harker is never slow to acknowledge Paul Ryan, born in Harker’s hometown, influenced his thinking in many ways as well. Fusco, on the other hand, was generally apathetic towards politics until the 2012 election. In 2012, he realized, “Those political ideas that [Republicans] were sharing, were the same ones I believed were best for this country.” Since coming to Bates, both Fusco and Harker have been increasingly involved with the Bates College Republicans club.
As trends have suggested, political polarization has steadily increased since the election of Donald Trump. Trump’s impact has certainly been felt by the club, Harker notes, saying, “People just automatically assume the worst… they think ‘oh you must love Trump including all of the bad things he espouses.’” Fusco chimed in, saying, “People saw the election of Donald Trump’s bad qualities and prescribed his values to the entire Republican party.” Fusco views educating people on true Republican values as the role of Bates College Republicans. “Our job as Bates College Republicans is to show people that there is more to the issues than what many college students think.”
It is no secret that many of Bates students differ ideologically from the members of Bates College Republicans. In fact, a Hart Research Associates study found twice as many college students identified as Democrats compared to Republicans. Fusco and Harker both attribute this fact to a lack of information. Harker explained to me, “I think some people just watch the fifteen second NowThis video, or read Buzzfeed, or get CNN updates on their phone, but they won’t talk to conservatives and see where they stand on an issue. I think that leads to a disconnect between the right and the left.” Fusco sees some people’s lack of information as an opportunity rather than a roadblock, saying, “the conservative view is not being heard anywhere on college campuses in America. When we offer our beliefs, you start to see people rethinking the mainstream, liberal narrative. I think that’s a good thing.”
While having an unpopular opinion during one of the most politically hostile times may be a burden to some, Fusco is overall grateful for his experience as a minority on a liberal arts college campus. He proudly states, “Being a conservative on a liberal college campus is a gift. We hear every single argument against the things that we believe in.” Harker echoed his statement, saying, “Here, you’re really forced to think for yourself.” The constant pressure from the other side has helped Fusco develop an appreciation for conservatives across all campuses, exclaiming, “It actually takes a lot of courage to be a conservative. You really have to know your stuff because people are going to try to find a way to beat you. You have to be willing to stand up for what you believe in because people aren’t going to understand it.”
Despite the tumultuous political environment, Harker and Fusco are optimistic for the future of the club and the development of public discourse. Harker cites the Bates College mission statement, saying, “I think if people come to Bates, they should be ready to embrace ‘the transformative power of our differences,’ but I think people forget the mission statement includes diversity in political thought as well.” He continued, proposing, “It would be great if we could get five or six liberals to come to a meeting and talk with us.” Fusco voiced his confidence in the future success of the club, stating, “I foresee the club maintaining its presence on campus and even growing within the new few years.”
In the words of co-president Frank Fusco, “People should join our club because we offer intellectual diversity. You will hear points of view and positions that are not often heard on college campuses. I think that’s really, really important.”