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Compiled by Eric Weld   Date: 10/9/08

Q & A with the Presidents

Mara Meaney-Ervin ’09, president of Smith Democrats, and Gretchen Hahn ’09, president of Smith Republicans, talk about their interests, goals, and their respective positions in this hot election season.

Mara Meaney-Ervin ’09, president, Smith College Democrats

Gretchen Hahn ’09, president, Smith College Republicans

The Gate: Describe your academic interests?

Mara Meaney-Ervin: I am a government major with a minor in Economics. I take my liberal education seriously though, and take at least one class every semester in a department that is neither my major nor minor.


Gretchen Hahn: I am a government major with a minor in public policy. One of my other interests is neuroscience. At one time, I was convinced I was going to be a doctor (thank you Grey’s Anatomy!). I turned out to be horrible at chemistry so I decided to stick with focusing on the policy issues that have emerged around the scientific fields.

Gate: What are your goals as club president this year?

MM: As President, I see myself, with the help of my Executive Board, as an initiator and organizer for the events, programs and trips desired by our membership. In addition to all things Democratic, we also love little "d" democracy and often vote on everything from upcoming events to T-shirt designs in our meetings. Using the model of past successful events as well as enthusiasm and criticism from past years, we have crafted a year that promises to get more Smithies involved with the Democrats and keep them active and interested. I see my main responsibility as continuing to provide and advertise political
opportunities on and off campus.
GH: I have three goals as president: 1) Membership growth is very important to me. In order for us to grow, we have to reach out to girls who may have grown up as Republicans, but feel uncomfortable admitting it here at Smith. We are a very small group. But as small as we are, we are very diverse.  2) I want to keep our members engaged in politics and civic action around our core issues after the election. We also want to engage in education and activist programs that bring more people into the public sphere beyond just voting.  3) We want to create opportunities and events that are fun and educational for our members and for the community. We need to move beyond some of the negativity that surrounded our group this past year. I would like to invite every girl on campus to come to one of our meetings. We have a ton of fun and are always open to everyone, regardless of political leanings.

Gate: What do you anticipate for your club this academic year?

MM: Our kick-off meeting for the Smith Democrats took place on September 8, and we were joined by 140 members who are ready to jump right in and
hit the ground running. We have been sending vans every weekend to campaign for Obama in the battleground states of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, and to work on the ground for many other important senate and house races in the area. In addition to campaign trips, we will be hosting events on campus, making phone calls to encourage voter registration and in support of specific issues and candidates. Working with the Republicans, we are hosting events about the importance of voting, with information to help get each and every Smithie registered. After the election, we will be hosting a number of speakers, holding panels and political social events to continue to keep providing opportunities for education and political activity.

GH: Most of all, I anticipate a lot of campaigning! The fall campaign season is exciting because it really brings us all together as a party. We will also be doing several voter awareness projects with the Smith Democrats. As soon as the campaign is done, we will start focusing on what Smith Republicans do best: making a difference on campus and in our community. We will continue to sponsor conservative speakers, panels, and movies, and will offer a weekly opportunity for members to meet in a “safe space” to discuss ideas that are a bit countercultural compared to some of the more liberal ideological perspectives at Smith.

Gate: Do you feel added responsibility in your position in a year of a big election?

MM: The scope of this election has certainly added some gravity to the position of president, although not necessarily in actual responsibility level, as we are always a very active organization. The most important element for me is my own personal conviction - I absolutely take to heart the responsibility to be involved and motivate others to do the same in this historic election. GH: I feel some added personal responsibility as president, but I actually think the feeling extends to the whole club. Smith College Republicans is an exciting organization, but we are really a minority on campus. We profess an ideology that a lot of students have little or no experience with and we are the only representatives for the Republican Party that many girls see on a regular basis.  Everything that the club does is subject to increased scrutiny. We expect this to be a tough year for the Party at the elections and a similarly tough year for us on campus.

Gate: How would you describe the atmosphere and attitudes at Smith toward your club? Are people willing to discuss the issues?

MM: The Smith College Democrats is one of the biggest organizations on campus with a current mailing list with over 600 people. Smith tends to be a fairly liberal campus, so we are generally well-received on campus. For the most part, Smithies are interested in engaging in political conversations, even on difficult issues. The Dems are dedicated to many bipartisan issues, such as voter registration and political awareness. Even in areas where we disagree, we have a friendly and respectful relationship with the Republicans club. This year alone we are excited to offer a number of bipartisan events and forums in conjunction with the Republicans on campus. Gretchen and I meet regularly and I am lucky to have the opportunity to work with her. GH: Prospective students and their parents often ask what the atmosphere is on campus, not just for Republicans, but also for a variety of specific groups. I tell them that Smith College strives to be open and accepting of everyone. Unfortunately, as we have seen, not all students are interested in upholding the standards of equality and acceptance that the college sets for itself. Many college Republicans on campus often feel threatened because of their religious beliefs or sexual preference. This should not be the case; the school should be creating a “safe space” for all students regardless of their beliefs. This is one of the reasons why I am so interested in creating an opportunity for Smith College Republicans and other groups on campus to meet together and discuss tough issues important to our campus and the nation.


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