College Republicans and College Democrats clubs at Christian colleges like Wheaton, Grove City, Messiah, Calvin, and Gordon recently geared up for the midterm elections. During election season, political clubs promote student involvement in politics by conducting voter registration drives, publishing informational pamphlets, and recruiting student volunteers for campaigns.
Covenant College has no partisan political clubs. In the fall of 2016, former student Wes Wright and now-alumna Autumn Allen (‘17) tried to start a College Republicans club. A number of factors led to the club’s dissolution before it was proposed to Student Senate. Allen was unable to find a full-time professor who would agree to be the faculty advisor, and lack of organization led to the club’s unsuccess.
In the spring of 2017, Erin Cooke, a former student, brought before Student Senate a proposal to start a Turning Point USA chapter. Senate rejected the proposal, citing the organization's potential to breed discord among students.
Turning Point equips students to advocate for conservative ideas and values through grassroots activism and peer-to-peer conversation. The organization’s key values are fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.
In her presentation before the Senate, Cooke described a number of potential benefits of a Turning Point chapter. The club would give students access to political conferences, provide leadership opportunities, and offer another route for fulfilling the intercultural experience requirement: a trip to Israel to study Israeli-Christian relations.
Part of Turning Point’s mission is to rebrand conservative values with strategic messaging. Turning Point activist signs feature conservative taglines such as “Big government sucks,” and “Free markets, free people.” Cooke offered to have any signage pre-approved by Senate.
Louis Metcalfe (‘18), Student Body President at the time, opposed the proposal because of its messaging.
Referring to the group's Facebook page, Metcalfe said, “It’s not eloquent, and they don’t express themselves in a Christ-like manner.”
Dr. Jack Beckman, Student Senate’s faculty advisor, also expressed strong reservations about the organization during the meeting. He called the organization’s dialogue “radical and divisive” and urged Senate to consider the issue according to a Biblical framework.
“What do we say to our students at Covenant College who are fully Christian and fully left?” Beckman asked.
Other Senate members, such as former Junior Class President Pedro Martinez (‘18), liked the idea of starting a political group but had reservations about Turning Point.
“Turning Point might not be the right vehicle to use at Covenant,” Martinez said.
Today Beckman affirms the Senate’s decision to block the creation of a Turning Point chapter. Beckman said he would be open to having partisan student organizations in the future as long as they are respectful and promote productive political discourse.
Referring to divisive political dialogue, Beckman said, “Turning Point feeds into that brokenness; it is not transformative, or redemptive. They weaponize students to go after faculty and other students… and crush other views.”
Today, Cooke is president of a Turning Point USA chapter at the University of Georgia. She maintains her stance that students benefit from learning to operate in partisan politics. Cooke also praises the club for fostering diverse political dialogue on campus.
“I would encourage [partisan groups] because that’s the real world, that’s real life,” Cooke said. “We have to learn what the other side thinks, what they promote, and what they actually believe.”