DURHAM — Being a Republican at the University of New Hampshire can be lonely for students afraid of being ostracized for expressing conservative viewpoints in a liberal environment.
Eight students attending the College Republicans regular Wednesday meeting in the Memorial Union building said UNH is a liberal school.
“A lot of people don’t like to express that they are a College Republican. They’re just worried about conflict, or whatever it may be, and people just want to be liked on this campus,” junior Alex Stern said.
Stern attended an event for former Ohio Gov. John Kasich earlier this month and said then he would not wear a hat supporting President Donald Trump on campus. Those with him agreed that would be unwise.
Junior Hayden Harrington is the chairman of UNH’s College Republicans. He said people on campus in general have a negative perception of what it means to be a Republican because of their dislike for Trump, whose impeachment hearings have further polarized the country.
“What’s sad is that everyone sort of sees how President Trump is and they think every Republican is like that,” Harrington said.
Of 14,895 undergraduate and graduate students at UNH, 15 to 20 are committed members of the College Republicans.
Some of them also are part of the school’s Turning Point USA chapter.
Senior Jarrett Torriere, vice president of the Turning Point chapter, is an example.
Last month, a fellow student told Torriere, “I hate you, and I hope you die,” after he confronted two men who were tearing down kiosk posters for an Oct. 24 event featuring Turning Point’s founder Charlie Kirk and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Torriere videotaped the confrontation, which Kirk tweeted about. It was reported by the syndicated news and opinion website Breitbart.
“We have a lot of issues like that,” Torriere said.
Students said on Wednesday that the administration has been helpful in dealing with these kinds of incidents.
Ted Kirkpatrick, dean of students and senior vice provost for student life, said on Friday that the school works hard to avoid taking sides on partisan issues and to maintain an environment that allows for the free exchange of ideas. He said sometimes that is “not an easy task given the rather toxic nature of political discourse in the nation at present.”
“UNH takes great pains to preserve its loyalty to First Amendment guarantees,” Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick said since the incident involving Torriere, the university took appropriate action in accordance with its written code of student conduct. Student government on campus is currently engaged in deliberations about how to better define what one can and cannot do about kiosk postings.
Meanwhile, members of the College Republicans say they’ll continue to stand their ground. They traveled to Manchester and knocked on doors for Victoria Sullivan when she ran for mayor this fall. They are planning to support Gov. Chris Sununu when he runs for office again in 2020.
Asked which issues mean the most to them, they answered legal immigration, right to life, voting rights and gun control.
Mass shootings are on their minds as well.
“If you look into mass shootings, a lot of people who were the perpetrators of those mass shootings struggled with mental illness. People who kill mass numbers of people usually aren’t right in the head,” sophomore Emily Tomasi said.
Sophomore Logan French and others in the group say that a gun used appropriately can help save lives.
“I follow the NRA on Instagram and they are always talking about how a mother saves a child with an AR-15, but you don’t see that on Fox or ABC or CNN,” French said.
Harrington agreed, saying he has seen clips of women who have avoided dangerous situations by pulling out their firearms.
Republican students at UNH aren’t alone in their concerns about being unpopular or in danger for being open about their views.
A 2017 youth poll by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics found that though 60 percent of college Democrats are comfortable sharing their political opinions on campus without fear of censorship or repercussions, only 25 percent of Republicans are.