On Feb. 19, roughly 15 members of the newly-incorporated Hilltop Democrats club gathered in the University Center to discuss the organization’s political endorsements ahead of the upcoming primary elections, including their first-ever presidential endorsement.
The club, which was established in fall 2019, will be using an atypical endorsement style, choosing to endorse separate candidates’ specific policies in several key areas such as healthcare, immigration, and climate change. The format is intended to foster more discussion and political discourse on a campus largely bereft of political groups and organizations. Cassie Murphy, advocacy director for the club, said, “It opens up the space a little more for people to talk about politics and to engage more deeply with actual policies.” This puts the endorsement strategy squarely in line with the overall mission of the young organization.
Maddie Campbell, the club’s president, said, “One of the reasons Hilltop Democrats started is because myself and a lot of the members have [political] experience from internships or volunteering for things, and we wanted to share that experience with people who aren’t necessarily politics majors.”
“That’s another goal of student organizations, to give people who study data science or something non-political […], like business majors maybe, a chance to discuss social justice issues or policy issues, because those things affect literally everyone,” Campbell said. In addition to the forum of open discussion they try to cultivate in their meetings, the club sponsors a number of events to this end, hosting speakers from a candidate in a local supervisor race to presidential campaign staffers.
Campbell, who also oversees political and special interest groups on campus for the Student Leadership and Engagement office, says she wishes there were more political clubs on campus, even if they were to come with potentially opposing viewpoints.
“Everyone agrees with us all the time, and that gets boring,” she said. “I just wish we had people to debate with, to be honest.”
The Hilltop Democrats are the only political group on campus aside from Model United Nations, and the only one directly affiliated with a particular political party or action group. This is a puzzling fact and a difficult one to reconcile with a student body with a reputation for being both socially conscious and politically active. There have been both Libertarian and College Republican groups on campus in the past, however, neither have been active for some time now.
Campbell doesn’t believe this is because students with those views aren’t present on campus. “There are definitely Republicans at USF, and they are very much afraid. I feel bad [for them],” said Campbell. “It sucks to feel exiled at your own University […] They exist, they just need to feel more welcomed here, but I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.”
As for her own club, Campbell says she is happy she took on the task of creating it and is confident that it will have staying power on campus, citing high member interest. The Hilltop Democrats will be officially releasing their full list of both presidential and local endorsements in the form of a comprehensive voter guide ahead of election day on March 3.