Conservatives on campus: Turning Point USA

A conversation with the new conservative club and its hopes to become ‘a beacon for public forum’

Published by Hayden Schultz, Date: April 9, 2024
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Editor’s note: For the convenience of this article, the abbreviation TPUSA represents the TPUSA chapter at SRU, not the parent organization.

Following a Feb. 19 SGA meeting, Turning Point USA at SRU (TPUSA) was approved and recognized after a vote of 17 to 8 met the student government’s threshold for approval.

During the meeting, TPUSA’s parent organization drew criticism from some senators voicing concerns for racism and “going against the LGBT community.”

“The idea that we’re trying to push hate is a ludicrous idea,” public relations manager Vinnie Tavolario said in addressing alleged concerns about the organization.

With only two meetings under their belt, president Allison Mahonski said the organization has not had a chance to properly establish itself to be judged by the campus community.

“I think it’s part of the problem on any college,” Tavolario said, referring to a stigma he said shadows them. “God forbid you have someone who doesn’t agree with everything you say.”

Road to approval and stigma on campus

Before TPUSA’s approval, the College Republicans were the sole conservative political organization on campus.

“I tried to re-up [College Republicans], but I ran into roadblock after roadblock,” said Tavolario, a freshman studying history with a concentration in law.

Mahonski said College Republicans reached out in Fall 2023, but since then she has not heard anything. Mahonski said the apparent dissolution of College Republicans was part of her motivation in assuring conservative voices are heard.

Mahonski, a freshman studying in Homeland and Corporate Security Program, did not see herself becoming the president of TPUSA’s SRU chapter.  

After she was approached by a TPUSA field rep and asked to fill out a survey, she was skeptical. After learning more about the organization’s conservative roots, she became interested in its purpose.

“I just wanted to give a space for like-minded students and faculty members to share their opinions without having to be ostracized for it,” she said.

According to Turning Point USA’s official website, its mission statement is to “restore traditional American values like patriotism, respect for life, liberty, family, and fiscal responsibility.”

According to some SGA senators in the Feb. 19 meeting, the fears of racism and anti-LGBTQ themes stemmed from some of TPUSA’s leading figures, such as founder Charlie Kirk.

However, according to Mahonski and Tavolario, the chapter does not directly reflect the parent organization or its leading members’ viewpoints.

“We’re not this scary, hegemonic crazy club,” Tavolario said. “What it boils down to is we are people who have an immense love for this nation and hold steadfast to our traditional values.”

Worrying about the stigma of conservatives on campus, she said she was lucky to connect with TPUSA’s current advisor, professor Brian Wisneski, who works in SRU’s Homeland and Corporate Security Studies.

Mahonski explained it was hard to find an advisor for the organization but has also “come to find there are a lot more conservative-minded professors” than she previously thought.

“There was a kid that told me once, ‘Hey, it’s going to be really hard for you to make friends over the next four years if you start this,’” Tavolario said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Similar situations further encouraged Mahonski and Tavolario to become involved in a conservative student organization.

“We’ve gone through maybe three people on the e-Board who have joined and dropped out because they are afraid of getting harassed,” Mahonski said.

Mahonski said one of the members who dropped out, and preferred to not be named, said she felt people were harassing her for her political views and it was affecting social and educational interactions.

“Conservatives I feel have such a bad reputation,” Mahonski said, referring to what people might see on the internet. “I don’t really think it’s fair people can act that way towards somebody based off their political views.”

Despite the stigma Mahonski and Tavolario described, they both said TPUSA has not received much real pushback, aside from the narrow vote of approval in SGA’s Feb. 19 meeting.

For example, Mahonski said TPUSA only had to send the constitution back to SGA for edits on one occasion, a process she said went smoothly.

The president also said she hopes to begin inviting speakers to campus, but expects this is where the pushback will begin.

Mahonski and Tavolario said chapter meetings are held regularly at 8 p.m. in Spotts 111, and people from across the political spectrum are invited to join the club.

Viewpoints and values

Tavolario said TPUSA is “just trying to build a bridge” on campus, but not exclusively for conservative voices.

Tavolario grew up in a household of lifetime democrats, where he described himself as a “black sheep” and accustomed to discourse and debate.

“I myself don’t want to exist in an echo chamber,” he said.

Mahonski echoed Tavolario and said TPUSA’s SRU chapter will bring a safe space to talk about all viewpoints. The president said she did not want TPUSA to be a conservative-only club and welcomes anyone to attend or debate.

“Honestly it’s for everybody,” Tavolario said. “If you are a democrat and you want to come to the meetings, by all means go ahead.”

Mahonski said she already has a couple of students who attended the meetings who are center-left in their politics.

“When we’re telling people what Turning Point’s about, we say American values, and people often think ‘homophobic, or racist,’” Tavolario said. “Those ideologies are disgusting, evil and moronic, but if you just throw it around the word loses its meaning.”

Tavolario said the overuse of these labels were unfairly characterized in the first place and do not represent what SRU’s chapter embodies.

Tavolario instead described American values as supporting the nuclear family, supporting veterans, and wanting people to have “the same appreciation to be in this country.”

Tavolario explained how even though he is deeply rooted in his Italian culture and language, where it is commonly spoken in his household, he always identifies as American first. Mahonski and Tavolario explained how identity politics and associating political views with ethnic or social groups has negatively affected the country by removing the unifying identity of being American.

“We lost our identity as Americans,” Tavolario said.

Even with opposing viewpoints and “demonization” from both sides, Tavolario said there are simple problems we should all be rallying on.

“You don’t want high gas prices, you don’t want single moms to work three jobs,” he said. “It’s just common ground.”

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