Christian, conservative and leaning hard to the right. That may be Pepperdine’s image, but the Young Democrats hope to bring a balancing voice to the perceived conservative tilt.
Senior Michael Wang, president of the organization, acknowledged that there are more Republican students at Pepperdine, but Young Democrats is vital in establishing another perspective on campus.
“Because our campus is predominately conservative in a lot of ways, Young Democrats is a way to promote different ideas on campus and shake things up a little bit,” said Wang. “It’s healthy for a campus to have different viewpoints.”
Young Democrats has been an active organization that sponsors public debates, holds meetings, promotes political dialogue and raises awareness of issues.
“Two years ago we did voter registration against the recall,” said senior Deborah Whang, a member of Young Democrats. “We also brought in Vanessa Kerry, John Kerry’s daughter, to come on campus and speak about why voters should support John Kerry. Last year we went and helped with the Malibu. Democrats fundraiser and we also assisted local candidates with their campaigns.”
With the primary campaign season beginning to heat up, spring is a busy time for partisans. The California primary is in June and included in that election is a much-watched race between five Democrats for the 41st Assembly seat being vacated by Fran Pavely, who must leave office because of term limits.
Malibu is in the 41st District, which because it is heavily Democratic will almost certainly be decided by the primary election.
Political science professor Dan Caldwell said there are many aspects of the Young Democrats that people are not aware of, including Chelsea Kasai, who was the executive director of the National Young Democrats for the 2004 elections and a graduate from Pepperdine.
“She graduated about year ago and she was the top official for the Young Democrats of California and headed up the campaign efforts at college campuses for Kerry-Edwards,” Caldwell said.
The ratio between Democrats and Republicans is private information that Pepperdine has not been asked to gather by the federal or state governments.
However, assistant professor of law Naomi Goodno said a lot of students at Pepperdine are Republican because of the social issues and the Christian affiliation.
“A lot of people who align themselves as Republicans are because of those social issues and the Republican platform tend to align with the Christian views on a lot of those issues,” Goodno said.
Whang said many students believe that only Republicans can be Christians, but taking politics and mixing it with religion can corrupt faith and twist politics.
“Christianity doesn’t necessarily mean conservative but that is the tendency,” Whang said. “My biggest concern is the way some people have implied that you can only be a Christian if you are a Republican and if you are a Democrat you are not a Christian or you’re a bad Christian.”
“People have a knee jerk response that if you’re a Christian you have to be a Republican but it’s actually a little more complicated than that because you have a lot of different things going on like the fiscal and social issues.”
Goodno said people should situate politics into two categories: fiscal policy and social policy. One can consider themselves Republican on the social issues and Democrat on the fiscal issues.
“I am a die hard, real-right wing conservative Republican when it comes to social issues which include abortion, gay marriages and legalizing marijuana,” Goodno said. “The other issues you have to look at are the fiscal issues, I’m talking about how much you should tax people.”
Mixing religion with politics has always been an issue. Pepperdine’s Christianity affiliation causes outsiders to believe it has a specific political stance, Goodno said.
“The outside world thinks we have a specific political bent because we are a Christian school. It would be surprising for people who actually talk to each one of the professors here and how they all prioritize and do things differently,” Goodno said.
Goodno teaches legal research and writing, and coach trial team advocacy, she said that when it comes to law and politics there is some tension between Republicans and Democrats.
However, teachers work overtime to be as balanced as possible.
“Most of us try to be even handed and objective,” Caldwell said. “With that said absolute objectivity is impossible and when a professor writes a syllabus he or she is exercising judgment about what topics are important and what readings are important. So that’s a subject of decision and could be affected by political bias.”
Although the students may be more on the conservative side, it is the opposite way with the faculty, Whang said. At the professor level of Seaver, Democrats include professors Mike Jordan, Richard Hughes, Chris Soper and Dean David Baird.
Caldwell is also a longtime Democrat who served on the Clinton-Gore Transition Team and the Arms Control Task Force for Kerry-Edwards.
The Young Democrats are proof that there is a healthy “other voice” for students at Pepperdine, which brings a balance to the student body.
“Pepperdine is obviously more Republican than Democratic but I think the difference between the party orientations of students has narrowed some the last few years,” Caldwell said. “I’m guessing that party identification would probably be 55 percent Republican and 45 percent Democratic or Independent.”