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The Young Republicans group meets every Thursday on campus, and they allow non-members to attend meetings. Therefore, for the purposes of this study I chose to analyze the group dynamics and patterns of this specific club. Although the club lists forty official members, the political club meetings usually contain fewer than twenty people. About seventy percent of the student members are Caucasian; the remainder are East Asian and African-American. Usually men outnumber women about three to one. The meetings are partly social in nature, with food and beverages served during a chat time, after which political issues are formally discussed. A few of the members are group leaders such as the president and secretaries. These leaders guide the discussions and organize group activities outside the meetings. These activities include collective letter-writing and attendance of political rallies and lectures in the area. Generally, the club is semi-formal in nature with a distinct hierarchy but it operates along democratic lines. Students interact with each other on a casual basis, but there is much individual difference in behavior and social interaction: some members do not interact with club members on a social, personal level and instead opt to keep their interactions focused on the political functions of the group. Upon immediate observation of the first two meetings, there are no behavioral expectations or rules. However, during the course of the eleven weeks during which I observed the groups, some basic expectations and norms emerged. Because the Young Republicans are an overtly political group, salient cultural elements include belief systems (political, social, and economic); gender relationships; and race relations. Furthermore, the group has distinct beliefs about their cohesiveness as a group in relation to the campus at large, which tends to be generally unreceptive or outright unfriendly toward their political views.
Political belief systems are the most significant aspect of this ethnography. The Young Republicans are fundamentally in favor of the American Republican party, known as the Grand Old Party (GOP). However, the divisiveness among Republicans on a national level is reflected in the college campus club. Group members foster conservative political beliefs, include unabashed support for the American military and for American world dominance; the preservation of Second Amendment rights; and pro-life politics, to name a few. The economic policy beliefs of the Young Republicans are also notably conservative; all favor a fiscal policy that rests on low taxes, privatization of resources, and the reduction of publicly funded social services like welfare. The group does not discuss issues like the environment, and when they do it is considered to be a "liberal" laughing matter. One of the contentious issues addressed in club meetings is affirmative action. Most members strongly oppose affirmative action on college campuses but the minority students in the group favor a middle-of -- the road approach. However, even the minority members of the group consider themselves to be officially against affirmative action recruitment and hiring policies.
The members of the Young Republican group come from upper-middle class or wealthy backgrounds. A few of the members profess that their parents were not well off, and that they had to fund their education personally through loans and part-time jobs. Group members dress in a basically conservative fashion. None stand out by adopting a unique personal style but a few have body piercings or small tattoos. The general style of dress is "preppie-conservative." This uniformity creates a sense of group conformity and unity among its members. Regardless of their family's financial situation, all members agree on tax cuts and minimal social services on a grand scale. Most if not all of the members openly support privatization of public utilities and services. Business is a key topic at many Young Republican meetings, as many members are aspiring entrepreneurs. The Young Republicans often discuss economic policy at group meetings. The government's budget, according to the group, should be meted out mostly to military campaigns. Although some group members do not support the Bush administration, most members favor the administration's foreign and domestic policy in general. Those who do not agree are treated with a somewhat condescending tone; their views are debated but because the dissenters are outnumbered, they rarely gain the floor during open discussions.
When the group interacts socially, in the absence of an official meeting schedule, the group dynamic is causal and informal yet often strained and even awkward. Many members, although they gather at least once a week, do not seem friendly or familiar toward one another. The absence of intimacy at group meetings emerges in speech patterns and body language. Students are polite toward one another and can even be deferential. The members who are close friends outside of the group are an exception to this general rule. Those who are already friends are not constrained by the group norms of conservative interactions. Rather, they engage in lively banter and jokes. Most members discuss their course load and work at some point during the social sessions. Their majors vary from political science to biology. Food served at meetings is either purchased from the campus cafeteria service or from local convenience stores and ranges from baked goods to cheese and crackers. Food service and eating are totally informal: paper plates and napkins are used and there is no set meal time. On a few occasions, the group ordered pizza for delivery. Alcohol is never served at meetings, as most of the members are under age. No music is played at group meetings.
The students in the Young Republicans enjoy arguing about their political belief systems. The members' politics are not universal within the group, and some are less conservative than others. When political discourse begins, members argue heatedly but rarely become personally incensed. It seems that deference and politeness are general norms of the groups' social interaction. Body language reflects this: members rarely touch each other or show affection. There is little if any flirtation between members of the opposite sex. During one meeting the subject of homosexuality came up. This turned out to be one of the most controversial issues discussed in the group, with a majority of members strongly opposing rights for gay partners and a small minority whose social politics are more libertarian. Gender relations are egalitarian. The president of the group is a female student and members show her due respect; when she speaks she is rarely interrupted.
The group hierarchy is noticeable throughout the social, informal section of the group meetings as well as throughout the more structured part of the meeting. Lasting approximately two hours, the first half-hour and last fifteen minutes are generally reserved for socializing. During this time, the members who are in positions of leadership form their own cliques. When they mingle with others, they maintain their dominance through body language, speech, and other behavioral indicators. For example, the president of the club speaks for brief periods of time with other members of the group. She does not ask personal questions, instead asking about matters pertaining to the group's activities or politics. She stands with her hands on her hips and feet in firm stance indicating confidence and power. She makes eye contact and listens intently to the members, also showing her self-confidence and competence as a leader. The Young Republicans who are not in positions of leadership demonstrate a variety of behavioral traits that impact their interaction with one another. Some take on a stand-offish stance similar to the group president, while others are far more personal in nature and are inclines to make jokes and references to popular culture. During the formal portion of group meetings, order is maintained voluntarily; no rules are outwardly stated. However, on one occasion, a few members conversed amongst themselves while the main speaker delivered a speech. Several other members of the group glared at…[continue]
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