Any student on Duke’s campus during the 2016 presidential election knows how sharply divided the community felt, with political issues increasingly becoming entangled with students’ identities.
Leading up to the election, Colin Duffy, at the time the president of Duke College Republicans (DCR) and a junior computer science and economics major, faced a difficult challenge: half of the club wanted to endorse the Republican nominee Donald Trump, while the other half wanted to avidly disavow him and endorse a third-party candidate.
As College Republican clubs at Harvard and Cornell garnered national attention for refusing to endorse Trump, Duffy knew his club’s stance would impact its legitimacy and funding from the party apparatus.
He ultimately determined that the only way to maintain club unity was to remain neutral in the presidential race by abstaining and focusing efforts on state and local elections.
“I believed that abstaining was the most reasonable way to respect the desires of all members of the club,” Duffy said.
Eighteen months later, he stands by his decision and believes that the club grew stronger after working through this internal struggle.
With 75.7% of U.S. students voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Duffy faced substantial opposition from his peers. Despite his personal pre-election stance on Trump, his status as DCR president made him an obvious target. In the days following the election, people taunted him, spilled drinks on him, called him a racist, and lampooned him on social media.
Yet he understood it was his civic responsibility to promote bipartisan conversations and common understanding on campus to help the community heal.
“We need more discussion on why you believe what you believe,” he said. “If you deal with that, you can start to understand a person and frame principles in ways the other person can comfortably engage with.”
After his graduation in May, Duffy hopes to continue promoting bipartisan conversation and collaboration at Duke and beyond.
“People have a tendency to view others not like them as a stereotypical caricature instead of individual human,” he said. “It’s easier to attack a caricature than a person. It’s important that both sides are willing to listen.”
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