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Conservatives log on to the blogosphere

Brown's conservatives may be few in number, but they're still finding new ways to make themselves heard.

"Why are theatre people even pretending like their opinion matters?" asks, a new student-run blog created as a forum for right-leaning students to discuss University events and national political issues.

Until now, the campus conservative movement has in large part been recorded by the Brown Spectator, which strikes a formal tone. But as Brown's conservatives look for new ways to share their social and political analyses, they're turning to the Internet.

"I want Brown conservatism to be Googleable," said Joshua Unseth '09, a creator of and contributor to BrownIvy.

Unseth said the genesis of the blog, which launched Sept. 16, was "kind of a crapshoot." One of the reasons for founding it was to provide a sounding board separate from the Brown Spectator - a student-run "journal of conservative and libertarian thought" - to escape some of the negative feelings students may harbor toward that magazine, Unseth said.

Another goal, he added, was to give Brown conservatives an opportunity to write shorter, more informal pieces that could provide quick responses to columns in The Herald.

"A lot of people discredit things just because they're associated with (the Spectator)," Unseth said, adding that he hopes the blog will "get away from the stigma people may or may not have" with the publication.

Though the desire to promote a less represented perspective inspired BrownIvy, Unseth and other contributors are approaching the blog with a sense of playfulness.

"There's an element of intellectual integrity, but a big part of this is to have fun for conservatives at Brown," Unseth said.

In the month-and-a-half since its creation, the blog has featured posts on a wide range of topics, including today's presidential election, conservative David Horowitz's recent on-campus lecture and last week's anti-abortion protest outside the BioMed Center.

"Hopefully it will be amusing," said Christopher McAuliffe '05, contributor to the blog and a board member at the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity, which publishes the Spectator. "That's the highest calling of blogs."

The blog "will help those of us on the right to vent our rage," McAuliffe said. "One can feel like a rat in a cage if you're not in the preferred political community here."

In a recent issue of Brown Alumni Magazine, David Klinghoffer '87 describes life as a conservative at Brown in the 1980s. In what he called a "delightful atmosphere of addled liberalism," Klinghoffer's outspokenness was less than welcome, he wrote.

"I was shunned. I was a pariah. And I thoroughly enjoyed almost every minute of it," wrote Klinghoffer, who was a columnist for The Herald while at Brown. For some conservatives, aspects of Klinghoffer's experience resonate today.

"Sometimes I feel I'm perceived as a pariah," Unseth said.

However, conditions for conservatives at Brown have improved considerably, Unseth said. "People don't throw eggs at conservatives now. It's part of the diversity trend," he joked.

When Klinghoffer attended Brown in the 1980s, said Spectator Managing Editor and Herald columnist Sean Quigley '10, free speech codes at the University stifled the voices of some conservatives. But conditions improved with the arrival of President Ruth Simmons, who has been a key ally in promoting free speech, Quigley said, adding that the Janus Forum and the Political Theory Project have also fostered open debate on political issues.

The University "is not a rally," Simmons told The Herald. "It's a contentious place where ... jarring perspectives compete." To create a campus community in which students are challenged by the views of their peers, Simmons said the University must forge a space for minority voices to be heard. To that end, three years ago she created the KaleidoscopeFund, which provides funds to bring speakers to campus whose voices otherwise might not be heard here - often including conservatives.

But today's Brown conservatives have access to something else Klinghoffer did not: the Internet. Unseth and a core group of conservatives said they hope BrownIvy will open a new forum for students with minority political views and expose Brown liberals to points of view they may not often come into contact with.

Unseth said the dominance of liberal perspectives on campus can sometimes function as a "veneer of truth." He remembered a professor stating that "capitalism is dead," and said even professors may portray their opinions on political and economic issues as objective facts.

Quigley and Unseth agreed that the strong majority of liberal perspectives creates a need for a space devoted to the expression of conservative viewpoints. "We seem to be up against a left-wing ideology," Quigley said.

Unseth emphasized the difference between being in the minority and being marginalized. "Some people allude to an 'outside liberal takeover' ... and respond that we need affirmative action for conservatives on faculties," he said. "I think that's ridiculous."

Simmons stressed that the University's job is not to engineer a balance between liberals and conservatives on campus. She said she would be distressed if Brown ever selected students or faculty based on their political affiliations.

Kristina Kelleher '09, editor-in-chief of the Spectator, said BrownIvy could serve an important function by announcing the campus's conservative presence. She said her fellow students assume that only liberals attend the school.

"I always feel hurt when people make assumptions about me without knowing me," said Kelleher, a former Herald senior staff writer, recalling a conversation last spring when a classmate told her that it was surprising that Kelleher was a Republican because she was so nice.

But some students not directly involved with the creation of BrownIvy disagreed about whether the blog will accomplish its goals.

Anthony Badami '11, who writes for the Spectator, pointed out that a very small number of conservatives - mostly Unseth and Quigley - do most of the posting on the blog.

Kelleher pointed to the lack of female voices on the blog. The conservative women she has met at Brown "tend to be more involved with other things and don't have time to write on blogs," she said.

Unseth said he hopes to attract a wider range of writers once the blog becomes better known, recognizing that some of the posts can be "one off, poorly edited pieces," he said.

The site has already seen a boost in traffic after it was referred to in a Providence Journal article earlier this month, Unseth said.

Unseth stressed that in Brown's current political climate, the future impact of BrownIvy is unclear.

"Technology gives us a voice," he said, "but it doesn't mean people will listen."



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