A new conservative student group is coming to Binghamton University, and while some students support its agenda, others are concerned the group will share the controversial views of the national organization.
Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is a national, right-wing organization whose mission is to “identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government,” according to their official website.
The BU group has been active for nearly two weeks and is planning on starting meetings, tabling and speaking events, their first being “The Case Against Socialism” on Oct. 28. According to John Restuccia, president of the College Republicans and College Libertarians and a junior majoring in political science who helped start BU’s TPUSA, since the group is funded by the national organization, they do not plan on becoming SA-chartered, providing the organization with greater freedom to operate without University oversight.
Although the BU chapter is still in its infancy, it has already been met with criticism on social media, including accusations of racism. The backlash is driven by figures associated with the national chapter of TPUSA, such as former communications director Candace Owens, who made contentious statements on Hitler and police brutality against black Americans on separate occasions in December 2019. Other collegiate groups have also been accused of spreading white nationalism. In May 2018, a member of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ TPUSA chapter was videotaped while chanting “white power.” The student was later banned from the organization.
Despite these incidents, BU organizers of TPUSA said the controversies do not represent what the group is really about, and they aim to center their efforts on fiscal issues and promoting free speech. Lacey Kestecher, president of the University’s TPUSA and a freshman majoring in business administration, said she hopes students will be open to civil conversations.
“We speak on fiscal [issues], not social — that’s what Turning Point is,” Kestecher said. “Anybody can come to talk about what you think is best for markets and everything.”
Students involved with left-wing groups, however, are wary of TPUSA’s mission. Dheiva Moorthy, a student organizer for BU Progressives and the Frances Beal Society, a BU-based grassroots organization dedicated to fighting oppression, and a sophomore double-majoring in environmental studies and sociology, said the new group has the potential to negatively impact freedom and openness on campus, which she said other groups have worked to create in the BU community.
“We take [progressive] discussions and we do not stop at theory and we do not stop at aimless words,” Moorthy said. “We continue the conversation by taking action, and it’s terrifying that their form of taking action is so violent and painful and literally racist.”
Ilana Grossman, a sophomore majoring in political science, is not involved in any campus political organizations, and said she maintains faith in BU’s student body to appropriately express their opinions.
“I’m sure most people on campus are super respectful and as long as people are respectful about their opinions, I’m fine with it,” Grossman said. “As long as everyone’s respectful, I don’t mind, honestly. It shouldn’t be a bad thing, it’s just other people sharing their opinion and people have to be respectful and know where to draw the line.”
According to Restuccia, BU’s TPUSA is going to be different from more controversial chapters by distancing themselves from the radical conservatism, but they will also not bar any voices from their meeting.
“If [the alt-right] want to come, they are more than welcome to come,” Restuccia said. “But all the alt-right disagrees with [are] a lot of the stances that Turning Point USA has. If you’re alt-right, you usually want to shut down other people’s speeches for a particular group. They are more than welcome to come and debate us, though.”
Letting all voices be heard, including those with controversial opinions, is a concern for Brian McQuaid, a junior majoring in anthropology, who said he thinks the TPUSA meetings could lead to hate speech being espoused on campus.
“You can’t just say whatever you want — words have consequences,” McQuaid said. “Creating a space on campus where those words are legitimized and you can really say this and really get away with this, that’s terrible and that’s a real breeding ground for white supremacy.”
But Kestecher stressed TPUSA’s purpose is to allow everyone a space to feel safe in their views.
“On campus, I think there needs to be more of an open dialogue,” Kestecher said. “There needs to be more openness, so that’s why this club is also being promoted because it’s free speech — to just be able to feel like you can talk and not get bashed by everybody.”