By Jiesi Zhao, Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar
When I first stepped onto the UC Berkeley campus, which is home to over 30,000 students and staff and covers nearly 7,000 acres of land, like most freshman, I was overwhelmed. Amidst all of the excitement and anxiety that comes with being far away from home for the first time, it was not difficult at times to feel like I was lost in the crowd. Therefore, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to get more involved and active on campus.
Being born in another (non-democratic) country, I recognized at an early age that a republican form of government is special and not to be taken for granted. Moreover, my parents always taught me the values of hard work, independence, and personal responsibility, thus, igniting and fueling my passion for governmental affairs and specifically for the Conservative Movement. Needless to say, when I became bombarded with a myriad of potential clubs and student organizations to join at Berkeley, the choice was very easy. And so, I found my home away from home with the conservative club at Berkeley.
Now, almost everyone knows that Berkeley is a notoriously liberal campus, infamous since the demonstrations of the 1960’s. What most people do not know, however, is that the conservative club at Berkeley is the largest ideological club on campus, boasting more members than other liberal clubs. I suppose that at Berkeley, all conservatives know that we have to stick together. In fact, the club provides pretty much the only environment on campus where the open expression of conservative ideas is not met with disdain. We were a tight-knit group and I have made life-long friends who became more like family during my time at Berkeley.
I started out as an arts/publicity co-chair on the board of directors in the club my freshman year and I soon began working with Young America’s Foundation after an upperclassman on the board brought speakers like Star Parker and Dinesh D’Souza onto campus through the Foundation. The first event I worked on with YAF was a week-long event called Support the Troops Week in the Spring of my freshman year where the club raised over $300 for the troops in a BBQ/Bake sale and brought in Colonel John Reitzell to speak at the week’s conclusion. Over the course of that week, I was pleasantly surprised by the volume of support the event received on campus; numerous emails and facebook messages rolled into my inbox from students who were not involved in the club but who supported the cause and wanted to help out. I eventually became president, and over the years, I was always pleased by the amount of support and attention that our events inspired throughout campus.
It was extremely rewarding to know that the club represented the conservative voice at Berkeley and that we had a strong presence on campus. No matter what we were doing, from tabling out in Upper Sproul Plaza almost every day to the events like the candlelight vigil and flag display we put on for the 9/11: Never Forget Project, to all the speakers like Phyllis Schlafly and Nonie Darwish that we bring in, we received support and acknowledgement from students, the school newspaper, and even from members of the community. Of course, we did always get a few liberal crazies at our events, but the fact that we generated enough of an impact to elicit their presence and “participation” only made me feel more accomplished in our task of having an open discussion where we represented the Conservative Movement. And the ideas, financial assistance, and other kinds of aid provided by Young America’s Foundation were instrumental to the success of all of those events.
Being on the board of the conservative club at Berkeley and working with Young America’s Foundation was a huge part of my college career. I know that with the help of the Foundation as well as from my fellow club members, I contributed in keeping the conservative voice alive on campus during the last few years of the George W. Bush administration, a time when being conservative was not exactly popular.
Therefore, when I decided to take a year off before attending law school, I knew that I wanted to work with Young America’s Foundation again. Now, as a Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar at the Foundation's headquarters in Herndon, VA, I hope to do my part in aiding students across the nation who face similar challenges as I did at Berkeley with their own conservative activism on campus.