Groups nurture conservatism among university students

By Mary Fauldsstaff writer

September 2009 – A recent Gallup poll showed an interesting, but slight, change in America’s ideological beliefs. More people now classify themselves as conservative as opposed to either moderate or liberal. The same survey revealed that young adults ages 18 to 29 were the least likely to call themselves conservative. In fact, about one-third classified themselves as liberal.

Those young adults are beginning to realize their power and are turning out at the polls in greater numbers. Last November about 52%, or 23 million people, under 30 voted, according to Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. That’s up 11% from 2000. They also overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama by a nearly two-to-one margin.

It is easy to understand the growth of liberalism among young adults given the current climate of the post-secondary educational system, where most colleges and universities teem with liberal professors. However, where do young conservatives go to find like-minded teachers and students? Also, where can they get trained to face and impact their world?

Three organizations rise to the top in terms of training young conservatives. Young America’s Foundation (YAF) stands out as helping young conservatives in politics. The World Journalism Institute (WJI) helps train Christian conservative journalists to work in a very liberal and biased arena. The Focus on the Family Institute (FFI) gives college students a firm Christian foundation in order to equip student leaders to impact culture for Christ.

Rather than a traditional school, YAF is the principal outreach organization of the secular conservative movement. It is a group for young people to join and take advantage of the resources. They do so by attending conferences and seminars, obtaining educational materials, working in internships and inviting conservative speakers to their gatherings across the country.

The group was started in the 1960s as an alternative to the radicals that were dominating college campuses across the country. Foundation leaders, including Ron Robinson and Frank Donatelli, helped establish the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the mid-1970s. That banquet and every CPAC since have been co-sponsored by YAF.

Young America’s Foundation held its first Annual National Conservative Student Conference during the summer of 1979, a tradition that continues today. Student leaders gathered from across the country in early August to experience an intensive week of informative seminars and training in campus activism. Students also had an opportunity to meet and discuss issues with professors, like-minded students, public policy leaders and media personalities such as Ann Coulter, Tony Perkins and former U. S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The World Journalism Institute zeroes in on what is probably the most liberal workforce in the world, trying to stem that tide with strong Christian conservatives. WJI trains aspiring journalists who are Christians to help them become proficient and professional in their calling of journalism. Students go to WJI in conjunction with their college education as further training and real workplace experience.

WJI’s focus is mainstream media as opposed to Christian media because the daily newspaper and broadcast news media outlets are primary sources of information about the world. The training comes through internships in various cities for a few short, but intense, weeks. The most recent was a convergence course in New York City during the month of May. Past multi-week courses have also been held in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Asheville, North Carolina. The institute also holds various weekend conferences throughout the country.

WJI is fairly new, celebrating 10 years of existence this summer. Institute staff present the WJI program at numerous national journalism conventions though the year via public presentations and hosted events.

The Focus on the Family Institute is probably the most traditional in the bricks and mortar sense, and also the most Christian-oriented. FFI takes on a limited number of college juniors, seniors or recent grads for either an 8-week semester in the summer, or a 15-week semester in the fall or spring.

FFI’s curriculum objective is to equip student leaders in the Christian worldview, as it pertains to family, church and society. They offer classes in developing a Christian worldview, cultivating leadership, family, church and society studies, and marriage and family studies, as well as an internship for the fall and spring semesters.

“The Institute may well be the most important program produced by Focus on the Family,” said Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, “as it equips the young men and women of this generation to be the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.”  undefined

Pepperdine University student Ryan Sawtelle (a YAF member) organized the 9/11: Never Forget Project in 2008. The 2,977 flags, one for each person killed in 9/11, were on display on the university campus.