Letter to the Editor: Comments on the President of College Republicans

I am writing this article not because I want to, but because I feel a moral obligation to do so. I am a white, registered Republican who is still trying to understand the depths of my privilege and what I can do with it to be a force for good in society. I am not here to ‘white knight’ or cause controversy when it is not warranted; I am just looking to call out bigotry when I see it.

Last week, during a Student Organization Presidents’ meeting, I witnessed a display by an organization president that I would characterize in no other way than bigoted and racist. The exchange floored me and other presidents I spoke to afterwards, which led me to reach out to The Duke and see if I could write on the topic.

If we don’t hold our own peers accountable for their actions, then who will? The unabashedly, morally bankrupt public display was shocking because it showed me that the issues plaguing our nation are a lot closer to home than I initially realized.

To provide a quick explanation of the situation, all of Duquesne’s organizations were asked to attend a Zoom meeting where some faculty and administrators could go over the new processes and best practices for running a student group in the world of COVID-19.

One such presentation was on diversity and inclusion, given by Anthony Kane, Duquesne’s director for said department. Kane’s presentation was not only timely, but insightful and engaging. He spoke on the importance of making Duquesne feel like a home for everyone and provided very simple ways that organizations could look to do that.

After he spoke, he opened up to questions, which is where the exchange commenced. Here, the president of College Republicans, Alec Skomo, spoke on a situation over the summer where one of his members looked to go to an event put on by Kane’s department and was apparently denied entry based on his race.

Skomo’s tone was attacking, and he concluded his time on the soapbox by saying that the situation “… doesn’t seem to represent the equality and diversity that you just presented on.” Based on his tone alone and not the moot that came out of his mouth, you could just tell he was trying to get Kane in a cheap ‘gotcha’ moment.

Kane, to his credit, handled the situation perfectly. He already knew of the situation and gave more context as well as an offer to speak personally to Skomo at a later point.

The event in question was hosted by the office of Diversity and Inclusion and called The Village. The Village essentially provides a safe space and counseling services to African Americans and other people of color. It’s a therapy session for marginalized groups who are living in the greatest time of racial unrest in decades.

The program is also advertised as being a place for people of color (POC) only, not in an exclusive sense but in a therapeutic and psychological one. If you think for a second that this College Republican attempted to go to the program with good intentions, then I have a bridge to sell you: that sentiment was only amplified after hearing the tone and words used by Skomo.

The exchange was a pathetic and pseudointellectual attempt to delegitimize Kane’s presentation and thus trivialize the plight of African Americans and other people of color.

First, it’s important to note that College Republicans is not a group that celebrates Republican classical-liberal values, but instead is just an extension of the Republican Party. The RNC could roll out Lord Voldemort as the nominee and College Republicans would have death eater tattoos within a week.

The group is a regurgitation of whatever rhetoric the party is conveying that year, and this is reflected publicly on Duquesne’s College Republicans’ Facebook page. On their feed, they described this newspaper as “liberal” because a student wrote an article opposing the border wall. How could a student-run, open-forum newspaper be inherently liberal?

No one is stopping College Republicans from writing at The Duke. Either way, using the same tone and language as president Trump to characterize a student newspaper is equally hilarious and sad.

It is also important to note that the organization is advised by Dr. Audrey Guskey, a marketing professor here. Dr. Guskey, who never responded to my email offering the opportunity to comment, has had her own controversial dealings, including conducting prayer in business class while videotaping her students and posting it on her Facebook page without their consent, among other issues.

She also runs a business group called Consumer$ence, and on June 2nd, at the peak of the George Floyd protests, essentially writes on this Facebook page that the recent events which have caused stores to close will result in companies running sales that will benefit consumers. Knowing the context of national events at the time, the insensitive post is still hard to read.

It’s very apparent that there needs to be some sort of cultural and institutional shift within the College Republicans of Duquesne.

As the president of the largest social fraternity on campus, I feel that I have a personal responsibility to take action against bigotry on campus whenever I see it. I was shocked to realize that this type of cheap, politicized and ill-willed mentality exists at Duquesne on an organizational level.

In this time more than ever, it’s important to have candid conversations about race and other issues in our country. However, there is no open discourse when a party tries to delegitimize someone’s claim by creating a poor strawman argument propped up by trolling a group of their own marginalized peers. We cannot let people hide their bigotry under the guise of ‘Political Belief.’

What I heard last week was ugly — plain and simple.

Duquesne has taken great efforts to make this school welcoming and inclusive, but in the end true change can only be actualized by us, the students. I recommend that everyone reevaluate their friends and take pride in your own ability to be open minded, compassionate and welcoming to whomever crosses your path. We won’t be able to make any real difference until we start holding those around us accountable. Let’s make Duquesne not-racist again.

Vince Gullo