Socialist club politicizes students, advocates for change


Wesley Herold

Socialist Students was created as a chapter of the national Socialist Alternative organization to give a voice for young people to promote progressive ideas, according to Clark Nguyen, a member of Socialist Alternative. 

By Campus Reporter

Students recently opened a chapter of the national Socialist Alternative organization at Columbia to politicize students and promote activism.

Ryan Hartson, a senior creative writing major and vice president of the group, said he worked with junior cinema art + science major and group president Sarah Gonser to start Columbia’s Socialist Students organization after learning about the Socialist Alternative’s initiative while attending its national convention in Denver, Colorado in June.

Hartson said he thought Columbia was well-suited for the organization because art schools historically lean left politically.

“We felt like we could come on campus and immediately have a certain amount of success,” Hartson said.

Clark Nguyen, a member of the national Socialist Alternative organization, said the initiative began after many young people were upset by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ loss in the primaries earlier in the year and did not see an outlet for progressive ideas.

Columbia and the University of Illinois at Chicago are currently the only schools with a Socialist Students organization in the city.

Hartson said Columbia’s apolitical character was seen as a boon to starting the chapter.

“Because no one else is there, it does make it a little easier for you to get your foot in the door,” Hartson said. “People are thinking about politics more and more as events in the country get more tumultuous. Just because there aren’t political organizations at Columbia doesn’t mean there’s not a political portion of the student body, so we feel like we’re going to have an opportunity to build out of all of that.”

Socialist Students joins another recently created political student group, the Columbia College Democrats, a chapter of the national College Democrats organization, as reported Nov. 7 by The Chronicle.

Socialist Students plans on holding monthly meetings in addition to the ones that have already taken place, including a Nov. 3 event titled Who Should Progressives Support? at which the group endorsed Green Party candidate Jill Stein for president. 

The group also hosted a Nov. 8 Election Night party and a Nov. 17 event titled Build the Resistance Against Trump. They also plan to be involved with the Black Lives Matter movement and support opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Hartson said.

Gonser said the group has also had sign-up tables around campus and created a list of about 300 potential members so far.

“We’ve had students come up to our tables and say ‘Wow, I’ve been looking for a group like this on campus,’ so that’s been super exciting to get confirmation that what we’re doing is being accepted,” Gonser said.

Hartson said he considers mass movements the only way to create social progress and said people should be aware of the power in creating change.

“For students who aren’t looking at politics right now, we would say to them: ‘Think about everything in your life you’re aggravated about. One way or the other, it has a political character to it,’” Hartson said. “‘Why not get involved and fight back against the oppression you see?’”