A Conversation with Political Club Heads

Contributing Writer Benjamin Who ’24 interviewed heads of political clubs to learn more about their role in promoting civil discourse in the community and their views towards the upcoming presidential election.

Langston Harris ’21

Harris is a four-year Senior and co-head of the Hotchkiss Democrats.

What are the most critical issues in this election, especially for younger generations?

The pandemic is definitely an issue that affects us all. We are among a very small percentage of people in the United States who actually have school in-person this year, but for us all, this is a time that has forced us to adapt and do things in new ways. The second thing is definitely racial injustice. After George Floyd, after Jacob Blake, and the summer of unrest that we’ve had, people who normally wouldn’t be engaged in political conversations are now engaging in discussions about race and injustice. I would say another important issue is the economy. When we graduate from high school, many people are going to be looking for jobs. 

How has the Hotchkiss Democrats club created conversation about the upcoming election?

We create these conversations through the weekly discussions, the debate-watch parties, and the discussions students have during the debate. We also have joint meetings with the Hotchkiss Political Union and Hotchkiss Republicans club. I’ve seen that most people are engaged already in politics, but we’re trying to structure this engagement in a more organized fashion. 

Why is it important to engage in political affiliation clubs?

I think it’s important that the country has an informed electorate. Just like with science, you need to understand why the world works the way it does. There’s a reason why so many people in the U.S. don’t vote: they don’t think they’re actually making a difference, but in reality, if more people are engaged, we have a better democracy. Most students at Hotchkiss are sheltered from politics, so it’s really important that, while they’re here, they learn about how our government works so that when they graduate and have jobs, they’ll be ready to engage in government. 

Royce Shey ’21

Shey is a four-year Senior and co-head of the Hotchkiss Republicans. 

Why is it important to engage in political affiliation clubs?

The Socratic format of Hotchkiss’s political club meetings provides students with the opportunity to refine or expand their viewpoints by interacting with those with different ideological leanings. Civil awareness, especially during an election year, is pivotal for our student community, as many upperclassmen are eligible to vote come November. The clubs on campus provide a useful resource for students to participate in the democratic process of our country.

Some people may say that the community is politically polarized. Do you think the Republicans or Democrats clubs have a role to play in that? 

As a conservative student on campus, I have found that almost all of my peers are rational, cool-headed, and willing to engage in thoughtful discourse. Political clubs provide the perfect opportunity for students to engage with their peers in a productive and civil manner, especially considering that the presence of upperclass student leadership ensures that level heads prevail. If anything, political clubs make Hotchkiss less polarized.

Alex Cherenkhov ’21

Cherenkov is a four-year Senior and is a co-head of Hotchkiss Political Union (HPU).

How has the  Hotchkiss Political Union dissected issues between Democrats and Republicans?

We do this by splitting the political issues into two categories: domestic and foreign. To prevent polarizing viewpoints or echo-chambers in the meetings, the club heads intervene if the discussion becomes too back-and-forth or if it’s too polarizing. We want to make sure that people are expressing their viewpoints as much as possible, but we also want to make sure that all viewpoints are being expressed. 

How is the Hotchkiss Political Union ensuring people  with different political stances can engage in political discussions?

Our leadership is mixed regarding ideological viewpoints. We have a head from both the Hotchkiss Democrats and Hotchkiss Republicans as a board member of our club. Usually, if there is a general consensus on a topic during open discussions, we’ll try to throw in additional guiding questions, and sometimes we’ll act as the devil’s advocate to see what reactions we get. 

Why are politics important for students right now?

I think it’s important for students to recognize that there is a world outside Hotchkiss. Especially in today’s world, we tend to look at things with a very polarized lens. I think that in addition to just engaging in political discussions, it’s important to bring forward ideas that aren’t polarizing, because doing so allows people to develop their own arguments and examine why they support certain ideals. 

Mr. Samuel Somera

Mr. Somera joined the school in 2019 as an instructor in humanities & social sciences and serves as the Hotchkiss Democrats’ faculty advisor. 

What do you enjoy the most about advising the Hotchkiss Democrats?

I enjoy listening to the students and hearing what conversations they have and the ideas that they come up with. I also love that this club is a space where students are getting together and they’re really being active citizens. They’re really getting involved in democracy and the democratic process.

Why do you think it’s beneficial that students at Hotchkiss engage in politics?

There’s a scholar who once said, “Politics is who gets what when.” If you look at the role and the decisions made by the government, they can shape the fundamental experiences of people’s lives, their opportunities, and the way they experience this nation. I think it’s important to understand that, in many ways, everything is political, and that this is a process that we can’t just leave to someone to figure out. The United States is a representative democracy for a reason. The right to vote is so cherished for a reason. I believe that it’s when we stop caring about politics, all of a sudden, that our government is no longer a government for the people by the people. So given the nature and the power of what the government can do to help people maintain equality and much more, it is so important to be involved. 

Due to the upcoming 2020 presidential election, many students are engaged in political discourse. Are you concerned that, after the election, we’ll see a morale dip in the student body?

It goes without saying that we’re a mostly blue campus, so whether there’s a morale dip will depend on the outcome of the election. I think what’s interesting about this election is that President Trump has alluded to the fact that, should he lose, he could challenge the legitimacy of the vote. That would put us in a constitutional crisis where we don’t know where to go from there. I’m mostly worried about two things right: I think the outcome of the election itself could result in a morale dip, and then I think if we run into this unprecedented constitutional crisis, it’ll be a very scary time for people. 

As you noted, Hotchkiss is mostly Democratic-identifying. Why do you think that is, and do you think that is a problem?

I think it has everything to do with the demographics of who’s decided they want to be part of this community. But it’s important to note that, for students, their political views just aren’t fully fleshed out yet. They’re at a time when they’re learning so much about history and government and they’re having so many conversations at Hotchkiss. I know it can be tough to be a conservative on this campus, but our club has always been open to everyone. We’ve had really awesome meetings where students who maybe lean more towards the conservative side are part of really productive discussions. At a time when civil discourse in the nation at large is dissolving, it’s great that I don’t see that here at Hotchkiss. 

Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.