College Republicans, Democrats share office space for first time

With 61 days until the election and 18 days until the first presidential debate, the campus – along with the rest of the country – is buzzing about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But despite the polarizing election cycle, the College Republicans and the Young and College Democrats will unite for one thing: room 210N, the office space they now share on the second floor of the Donna Shalala Student Center.

The room, approximately 200 square feet, has a shared common area with cozy chairs and a coffee table. On the right side, the College Republicans decorated the desks and walls with red, white and blue. The walls are draped in Trump signs, U.S.A. flags and the party elephant.

On the left side, the Democrats have slowly added posters and decorations.

“Right now, our focus isn’t decorating because we are trying to build our membership. But, definitely soon, we will get some Democrat bling in there,” said Michaela Stoudemire, president of the Young and College Democrats.

Stoudemire, a sophomore double majoring in Spanish and international studies from a town outside Louisville, Kentucky, said the space is reminiscent of her upbringing in a conservative region.

“There are probably only three Democrats in Kentucky. Just kidding, but the Democrats who are in Kentucky are more like moderate Republicans,” Stoudemire said. “I’m in the Bible Belt … I think it was my view of the world that shaped my political views. I’m not just a centrist Democrat; I’m more of a leftist Democrat.”

Chris Dalton is president of the College Republicans. The senior from Long Island, New York is serving his second term leading the organization.

After becoming immensely involved his freshman year, Dalton said he immediately knew he had to give back to the organization that had done so much for him in his first year.

As a freshman, he ran for campus outreach coordinator and won. This encouragement was what motivated him to run for president by the end of his sophomore year.

Dalton and Stoudemire decided to put political differences aside and unite to create a space where political ideas could be shared freely and civic involvement could be promoted.

“We were united, as we both felt that college is a time where young people are acquiring knowledge and shaping their beliefs and notions of the world around them, and having a political education and being civically involved allows college students to be aware that they can shape their future and the future of this country,” Dalton said.

After discussing the idea at length with Stoudemire, the two presented the idea to the committee that makes space allocations and it was approved for three years.

“We are looking forward to collaborating with the College Democrats and building relationships in the years to come,” said sophomore Paul Letsky, a business major and vice president of the College Republicans.

Both organizations hope to increase student participation, but the two operate in very different ways. Whereas Dalton said he had no trouble getting students to be enthusiastic and involved once they joined – more than 130 members rallied and chanted at the first meeting on Aug. 22 – Stoudemire said College Democrats did not have many involved members last year.

“Maybe 10-15 people were at each general body meeting, of the three that we did have. I was probably the most consistent member, so the previous president asked me if I could take over the club,” Stoudemire said.

Because of this, Stoudemire said one of her main goals is to expand club membership, maybe taking a few notes from Dalton and his predecessors.

“One thing that I think College Republicans does really well is brand themselves,” Stoudemire said. “They have had great leadership for years. I hope I can stick with this club for the next three years and brand College Democrats similarly.”

She also aims to register as many students as possible to vote in Florida, host presidential debate watch parties, and co-program events with United Black Students and Get Out the Vote and her organization’s suitemate, College Republicans.

Read More: Get Out the Vote is ‘All-In’ for voter participation

“Especially because we are sharing a suite with College Republicans, and because bipartisanship is important, we want to sponsor events with them,” Stoudemire said. “Just because our ideologies are different, doesn’t mean our goals are different.”

Although Stoudemire said the partnership wasn’t an intentional bipartisan gesture, the joint space shows how this generation will begin bridging typical partisan gaps.

“We don’t have any animosity or hatred of one another because of our party alliance. We can view things differently and still get along. I think that is the big statement the office makes. It isn’t so blue vs. red,” Stoudemire said.

Maddie Guillard, a junior who served as secretary for College Republicans in 2016, said interactions between the different ideologies will prepare members for the diversity of the world outside UM.

“I think it’s a great thing because it’s symbolic of the real world,” Guillard said. “Conservatives and liberals should not be separated, but rather should be able to exist together. They should be able to communicate effectively and listen to each other’s perspectives, even if they do not align.”