In April, a handful of freshmen decided that they were unhappy with the state of political discourse on campus.
Though Penn is home to various political groups, such as College Republicans and Penn Democrats, and publications, such as the Penn Political Review, they felt their perspectives were not being heard.
They’re conservatives — who can seem elusive on a campus where nearly 80 percent voted for Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 — and wanted a new forum to express their opinions.
So the group, including College sophomore Aidan McConnell, Engineering sophomore Dillon Weber and College and Wharton sophomore Nick Zarra, started The Statesman, which they’ve called “the only conservative or right-leaning publication at the University of Pennsylvania.”
“We’re really trying to provide a platform for the variability of conservative viewpoints to come out of the woodwork,” said McConnell, who is editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian’s The Red and the Blue blog.
Over the summer, the group met over Skype to construct a small pamphlet that they would distribute at the start of the year. They also reached out to conservative publications at peer schools, including the Princeton Tory and Harvard Salient. They also made contact with conservative think tanks, some of which offered support ranging from logistical support to funding. Several members are travelling to Princeton to discuss their progress with the Tory later this month.
“Even though we come from different schools, being that we’re all generally conservative people in a minority in an Ivy League school, that brings us together,” Zarra said.
The newly-formed Statesman also reached out to alumni who might be interested in purchasing a subscription or otherwise supporting the publication and incoming freshman interested in joining, including College freshman Ben Fogel.
“We want to touch on the bigger issues,” Fogel said. “But as well as touching on the bigger issues, we want to touch on something that is relevant to your average Penn student or your average Philadelphian.”
The magazine’s first issue, which was released last week, touches on national issues such as the debt ceiling and U.S.-Russia relations, but also funding for the Philadelphia School District, a recent hot-button issue in local politics.
Weber feels that The Statesman serves as a forum for a conservative viewpoint that often gets downplayed at Penn.
“You don’t learn anything from an echo chamber, which Penn can tend to become, with a lot of liberal ideas,” he said.
The group hopes to publish six issues per academic year, Zarra said. Magazines will be free for students, and the group will even personally deliver issues to student mailboxes on request.
The group plans to finance its work strictly from alumni, outside organizations and subscriptions, without asking for funding from the Student Activities Council if the moratorium is lifted. They also hope to expand their reach on campus, starting with an event with former mayoral and gubernatorial candidate Sam Katz next month for which they will partner with the Government and Politics Association and the Wharton Politics and Business Association.
“We’re looking to work with people who are willing to work with us,” Weber said. “And that doesn’t involve compromising ideas or principles. We can throw a great event with the Penn Dems, we can do a great event with the College Republicans.”
To that end, The Statesman’s staff is recruiting writers and submissions from across the right-leaning political spectrum.
“There’s no litmus test for joining The Statesman,” Weber added. “We aren’t accusing people of being ‘Republicans in name only.’”
Zarra added that while the publication calls itself conservative, it won’t refuse a submission simply because it is not conservative enough.
“Part of our mission is to enfranchise the disenfranchised at Penn,” Zarra said. “Yes, we’re trying to bring together a conservative base that’s been fractured. But we’re also trying to hear from people who disagree with us.”
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