By Carolina Lumetta
After reorganizing just last school year, the Wheaton College chapter of the College Democrats of America has not returned as a student organization for the fall semester.
Junior Amy Rice, who founded the group last fall with her classmate Aaron Doci, currently serves on Student Government (SG) as junior class co-president. Rice and Doci have decided that the club will be on hiatus until other student leaders can commit more time to it.
“Wheaton College Republicans have had an established presence for many years due to the conservative nature of the college,” Rice said. “However, that demographic is definitely shifting. We started the group because we realized there needed to be a balance of representation of political ideas on campus.”
Wheaton College Democrats aimed to educate and connect students to local politics, providing unique volunteer opportunities. Rice also said that having an established student Democratic group provided essential information to the student body during the voting process.
The club has disbanded in the midst of the 2020 presidential race, which is of particular interest to Democrats hoping to replace Donald Trump with a liberal president. As of today, there are 18 Democrats running.
“A lot of students might be wanting to vote for a democratic candidate but might be very confused as to which candidates support the same issues that they do,” Rice said. “I know there is a lot of sentiment on campus that students would not vote for the current administration to be in office for a second term. However, if they don’t know their alternatives, then they may just choose not to vote altogether.”
Historically, the Wheaton Democrats organization has faded after major elections. Peyton Smith (‘19), former co-president of the chapter in 2016, said it was hard to maintain group support and leadership due to students coming from a number of different states and a lack of freshman interest.
“We’ve always had issues with keeping it running,” Smith said. “Structurally, upwards of twothirds of the student body are from out of state. Investing in local politics doesn’t excite many people, especially if they’re not from Illinois.”
Dean for Student Engagement Steve Ivester has seen student clubs come and go for the past two decades and has noticed that Wheaton students are hesitant to engage in political disagreement.
“I’ve talked to many students over the years who would be very bold Democrats but still feel that insecurity of boldly claiming a political identity at Wheaton,” Ivester said. “The Republican party is easier and safer in some ways. You’re not questioned as much.”
Dean of Social Sciences Bryan McGraw was surprised to hear that Wheaton Democrats dissolved this semester but also recognized some of the obstacles student-led political interest groups face on Wheaton’s campus.
“One of the virtues of Wheaton is that we try to think about all the things we’re doing in light of our faith,” McGraw said. “One of the things I worry about is if sometimes people take that to mean that if we disagree about things it says something about the other person’s faith.”
“Wheaton has a weird aversion to politics because people are very stuck on the idea of a division between faith and progressive politics,” Doci said. “This has prevented a lot of development and growth even in the conversations of what politics on the left looks like.”
Although Wheaton Democrats is not meeting this fall semester, Doci is gathering support to reinstitute the chapter this coming spring semester. Recently, he has found several freshmen who have expressed interest in participating and looks forward to rechartering Wheaton Democrats with new members. Because the chapter has been part of the national College Democrats of America (CDA), Doci explained that Wheaton’s chapter holds a unique position nationally.
“A lot of people [affiliated with CDA] were surprised that Wheaton College had a chapter, and we’re the only religious chapter in the country that is chartered with College Democrats of America,” Doci said. “We’re called to reflect God’s glory wherever you are and that remains consistent and completely true within left politics, as well.”
Doci is currently looking to fill cabinet positions in order to recharter the club, and he plans on serving remotely as the political director of Wheaton Democrats in the Spring 2020 semester. He said next semester’s goals include voter registration assistance, providing information on the importance of voting in the primaries and connecting the club to the state chapter.