“O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done; The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.”
This past Sunday, President Michael Roth came and spoke to the Wesleyan College Republicans, assuring those present that he was very much interested in “intellectual diversity.” Sitting casually, but with an air of intensity and drive nonetheless, President Roth’s assurances to the group that he was a cultural ally dovetailed neatly with the overriding question which he posed to the assembled students—a question which many a Wesleyan University official has probably pondered—“How can we make this school more intellectually diverse, and what does that mean?” Yet, as Roth must have known, someone was sitting two seats away that had learned the answer to both of these questions, and who had fought hard and long to earn such an answer. That person will graduate in a few weeks, and I for one feel it would be remiss not to acknowledge his accomplishments, both as a fellow conservative and as someone who worked closely with him for the three years that I have been here.
That person is erstwhile Wesleyan College Republican President Eugene Wong. Many of my readers may find this name unfamiliar, as Eugene is a retiring type. He rarely writes Wespeaks. He doesn’t engage in rhetorical firefights. Until the existence of the “Wesleyan Witness,” his views barely became public at all, except for the occasional quote in the Argus. Yet, like the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, Eugene has always been the tenacious man behind the curtain in the Wesleyan College Republicans, tirelessly building the infrastructure and foundations necessary to allow the club to change from its former status as a collection of statistical anomalies to the iconic political Leviathan which it soon will have the capacity to become. Indeed, because of his relative silence and sense of dignity, Eugene has rarely received credit for his accomplishments. Like Ronald Reagan, he follows the maxim that “there’s no end to what you can accomplish, if you don’t mind who gets the credit.” That’s alright for him, but in this author’s opinion, it’s only fair that Eugene at least get credit before he graduates for helping to shape the Wesleyan political atmosphere so profoundly.
But first, a personal story. Four years ago, I was a bewildered pre-frosh considering my college options and wondering about which of them would provide me with the best education. At the time, it seemed that my choices ranged from the rural seclusion of Colgate University to the Southern hustle and bustle of Vanderbilt University to the utter eccentricity of Wesleyan. I knew that Wesleyan was probably the best option, at least in terms of reputation, and that I should send my card in immediately to get my spot, but something held me back. My guidance counselor had warned me that even being a pro-choice Republican meant being a “far-right radical” at Wesleyan, and that was somewhat alarming. I needed to know that I wouldn’t be lynched the second I got to campus, so I decided to ask someone who would know. I navigated to the WSA’s student group page, and found the page for the Wesleyan College Republicans, where Eugene’s name was listed as the President. I sent him an e-mail asking him whether Wesleyan was really as “oppressively progressive” as they said, and waited for a response. Instead of the short email I had expected, Eugene sent back a thoughtful, eloquent and exceedingly genuine response which laid out the reasons why Wesleyan could be a good fit for a Republican. And partially because of this genuine response, I decided to send in my card after all.
Of course, Eugene’s disavowals notwithstanding, Wesleyan was oppressively progressive. But if he hadn’t been willing to take the plunge his freshman year, at a time when, according to one of my sources, students still threw rocks at cars with Bush/Cheney bumper stickers, then so much diversity at Wesleyan might have been lost. Over the years, Eugene has guided Wesleyan’s chapter of the College Republicans from being completely irrelevant to being a driving force on campus which can command even the attention of the President. He has organized our fundraising, done jobs which no other officers wanted to do, stayed up to all hours supervising all our projects and put himself forward as a representative whenever activities fair tables need to be run. The recent recognition of the Wesleyan College Republicans as the “most improved chapter” of the year by the Connecticut Union of College Republicans is a result of Eugene’s tireless, obsessive and inspiring leadership. Had he been a man of the Left, such leadership might have been more well regarded by his peers, but those of us who can say that we found refuge with the group Eugene founded, whatever our logistical disagreements with him, have to give him credit for taking the initial plunge and braving the storm of leftist derision so that we could endure smoother sailing.
It may be difficult for non-Republicans to understand the truly revolutionary impact which Eugene’s commitment and incredible organizational skills have brought to the group, but let me try and illustrate it with one last example. Four years ago, the very idea of challenging left-wing activism would have been unthinkable, and no group would have dared to prove such a perception wrong. Now, four years later, even witch-hunts for “socially unjust” investments in major corporations’ portfolio and appeals to unfounded accusations of racial injustice can barely get more than the occasional Wespeak defending them, and never go unchallenged. I believe this has happened partially because one brave freshman in the class of 2009 sat outside MoCon and dared to dream that right-wingers could also have a chance to recruit students. Four years later, he graduates with that dream closer to completion than anyone has a right to dream in four years.