Political student organizations are trying to bridge the partisan divide on campus by celebrating the U.S. Constitution.
GW’s Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian political organization, will host the University’s first Constitution Week next week. The week will feature a series of events from student organizations across the political spectrum including the GW College Republicans, GW College Democrats, Young America’s Foundation, Democracy Matters and Reporters Without Borders.
The week-long celebration will include discussions on topics like war and foreign policy, the influence of money in politics and free speech.
Aleksandra Srdanovic, the president of YAL, said the events are designed to increase understanding of other student groups and political ideologies on campus.
Srdanovic said she decided to host this event to bring together students who hold differing ideologies after last year’s divisive presidential election, when President Donald Trump beat former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The win sparked protests, vigils and other gatherings across campus, including a 400-student walkout, in the days after the election.
“I saw a lot of my friends, and people that I knew, losing friendships over this because of their ideology, and not being able to understand the other person’s point of view and consider it,” Srdanovic said. “It was at that point where I thought we could use something like this.”
Srdanovic added that by focusing on the Constitution, the students can celebrate the rights it affords and recognize how the document falls short.
“What I’m hoping is that we come out of it a more cohesive GW community, and we are more understanding of different people’s perspectives – how this Constitution, that is seen as good for some people, might not be seen in a good light for others and why they see it that way,” Srdanovic said.
The event will mark the first time that YAL is working with more liberal student groups, a move the group hopes will help create a better understanding of different viewpoints on campus, she said. Nonpartisan groups like No Labels have also pursued a similar goal.
Srdanovic said each participating organization has planned the topics and styles of their events, including field trips, dinners and tabling events.
“Had I told them, ‘This doesn’t really fit with the narrative we are trying,’ that wouldn’t really be true to what we are trying to do with the event,” she said.
YAL will host a discussion on U.S. foreign policy and military involvement, including the constitutionality of Trump’s recent actions in Syria, Srdanovic said.
GW’s chapter of Democracy Matters, a national student organization that focuses on campaign finance reform, will host a table outside the Marvin Center to educate attendees on publicly financed campaigns – campaigns funded by the government instead of individuals. Mitchell Finkel, the group’s co-president, said the group will promote the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill currently in the U.S. Senate that will limit the amount of large contributions political candidates can receive.
“It’s from our point of view that the Constitution is vital to our system and campaign finance, and participating in this week will help codify our beliefs in the Constitution,” he said.
Abigail Marone, the director of political affairs for the College Republicans, said the group is hosting a trip to the National Archives as part of the week.
“Our organization is passionate about defending the Constitution and constitutional principles,” Marone said in an email. “Regardless of political views, it is always great to appreciate the document that shaped the country we are all proud to be a part of.”
Brandon Whitehill, the co-president of Young America’s Foundation – a conservative student political organization – said the group is participating because the Constitution is crucial to supporting conservatism.
“YAF is dedicated to protecting the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment both on campus and in our everyday lives,” Whitehill said in an email. “YAF’s ability to promote conservatism on campus flows from these primary constitutional rights, and we are proud to be one of GW’s preeminent organizations fighting for them.”
YAF is hosting a tabling event on the First Amendment as part of the event, Whitehill said. He is glad student organizations across the political spectrum can come together to support the Constitution, he said.
Valerie Nauman, the public relations director of Reporters Without Borders – an organization that advocates for the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press – said in an email that the organization is planning a panel discussion on media ethics.
“The press has recently been under pressure lately, and we wanted to highlight how press freedom can be threatened – even in the United States – if we do not hold our government accountable to the Constitution, which they’ve sworn to protect,” Nauman said.