As political protests and marches rocked campus last fall, Pitt’s campus political organizations reacted and changed with the rapidly shifting political landscape in Pittsburgh and around the country. Politically-minded students of all ideological allegiances became more involved and, in some cases, formed completely new groups.
The Pitt College Democrats were one of the biggest beneficiaries of the increased political passions on campus. Reflecting on last year, Charlotte Goldbach, the president of the Pitt College Democrats and a senior political science and communications major, noted an uptick in attendance after the presidential election.
“I think this election really showed the impact every person can have,” Goldbach said. “It inspired young people to really get involved.”
Goldbach described her club as “the Democratic voice on campus.” Unlike other organizations on campus, the Pitt College Democrats are a student branch of a larger political party. “We’re an official chapter of the Pennsylvania College Democrats,” Goldbach said. “We work with some of the other local College Democrat chapters in Pittsburgh like Duquesne, Chatham and CMU.”
Goldbach described the connection between the Pittsburgh schools’ Democrats as a “network of college Democrats we’ve built in Pittsburgh.”
The Pitt College Democrats offer opportunities to their members to get involved in political campaigns, local and otherwise.
“We have people working on Sheriff Mullen’s campaign,” Goldbach said. “A bunch of members were fellows on the Hillary campaign in the fall.”
Even though the Pitt Dems are active in campaigns, the organization itself doesn’t officially endorse any Democratic candidate until they’ve already won their party’s primary. “We don’t want to endorse anyone as an organization because we don’t want to prevent anyone from coming to our club,” Goldbach said.
Another club, the Pitt College Republicans, represents the other major national party and provides an ideological home for students who lean conservative. Lorenzo Riboni, a junior administration of justice major and the College Republicans’ vice president, says that his club’s status as the voice of a minority on campus helps them add to the diversity of political discussions at Pitt.
“A lot of Pitt students learn a lot coming to our meetings and debates,” Riboni said, adding that the annual debate with the College Democrats, sponsored by the Political Science Student Association, is one of the highlights of the year for his group.
“We’re hoping to hold a couple more [debates] this year,” Riboni said. “We’re gonna be out there, we’re gonna be visible.”
According to Riboni, members of the College Republicans are an ideologically diverse group, even among themselves.
“Not everyone supported Donald Trump, he wasn’t a lot of people’s first choice,” Riboni said.
The City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, both traditionally Democratic strongholds, offer less to conservative students than to liberals in terms of opportunities to connect with local politics. But Riboni insists nonetheless that his organization helps Republican students at Pitt get connected.
“We’re dedicated to providing conservative students at Pitt the opportunity to network with other conservatives,” Riboni said.
One of the less mainstream political voices on campus hasn’t been around quite as long as the Pitt Dems. Jeff Migliozzi, a senior marketing major, heads one of these less mainstream parties — the Pitt Progressives. Migliozzi describes the Pitt Progressives as “left of the College Democrats.”
“We’re a brand new organization. Our club started after the election; the club was kind of in response to the Democrats losing,” Migliozzi said. “After the election we did see a large amount of interest because I think a lot of people are dissatisfied with the Democrats.”
The Pitt Progressives are more focused on political action — getting students out of the ivory tower of academia to engage with the political process — than political discussion.
“The focus of our club is political action and getting students more engaged in politics across all levels,” Migliozzi said.
The Pitt Progressives helped out behind the scenes of some of the biggest political campaigns on Pitt’s campus last year. “Our club had a large role in organizing the March for Science, and over 5,000 people turned out to the march on Bigelow Boulevard,” Magliozzi said. “For students who would want the chance to take on a larger role and show more leadership, we give students the opportunity to do that.”
Students for Liberty, Pitt’s organization for Libertarian students, also saw significant growth after last year’s presidential election. Students for Liberty’s President Ben Sheppard, a senior history major, laid out what the philosophy of the clubs politics were.
“A simple description [of Libertarian philosophy] is socially liberal yet fiscally conservative,” Sheppard said. After last year’s election, Sheppard saw an increase in participation in meetings. “We started last year around March and had five members on average at meetings,” he said. “Now we’ve had meetings where there are around 20 people.”
Unlike the Pitt Progressives, the Students for Liberty are more for political discussion than activism. “We typically go into a topic and go into a discussion about a political issue each meeting,” Sheppard said. The Students for Liberty take their discussions to other clubs as well, holding debates with other political clubs on campus — for example, they hosted a debate with the College Republicans last year.
Sheppard mapped out a year full of big events for the Students for Liberty. “We’re looking to get the Libertarian nominee for the Senate in Pennsylvania, Dale Kerns, to come speak at one of our meetings at some point,” Sheppard said. “We also do a yearly trip to D.C. to participate in ISLC, which is a big Libertarian conference.”
Sheppard’s most excited about a potential visit from a big name in Washington — Barry Goldwater, Jr., whose father was a prominent figure in 20th century conservative politics, running against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson on the Republican ticket in 1964.
“He was a big Ron Paul supporter in 2008 and 2012 and his father Barry Goldwater was an intellectual leader for the conservative movement,” Sheppard said. “Having someone like him come speak on campus would be an amazing opportunity.”