Empowering Students with the Reagan Model of Campus Activism

The team at Young America’s Foundation this week has been writing about the biases, absurdities, and outrageous leftist programs many students face on college campuses across the country. Our previous columns were meant to warn incoming freshmen and about the nonsense they will encounter. Today, we would like to explain what young conservative activists can actually do about it.

For the conservative student, ensuring students are exposed to conservative ideas—especially when the Left does all it can to prevent this—might seem daunting at first. Not only do conservatives have to counter the numerous liberal groups on campus, but they also have to wrestle with a hostile administration, faculty, and even the student government that is less than eager to help them.

It is easy to be discouraged if young conservatives view the campus Left as a giant, monolithic entity. Instead, they should view the components that contribute to the Left’s power base, and think of how their conservative club can challenge those who attempt to prevent their club from reaching their most essential goals.

However, campus conservative organizations don’t typically have the manpower to pursue every objective at once. Alternatively, they should choose the areas in which their group can make the greatest impact. For instance, President Ronald Reagan didn’t attack every leftist program. Instead, he attacked obvious weaknesses and recognized the Berlin Wall as the Soviets’ “Achilles’ Heel.” If their system was so effective, why did they build a wall to keep people from escaping to the West? Conservatives need to find the campus Left’s biggest flaw and exploit it. 

The key to successfully challenging the Left’s campus monopoly is to develop bold initiatives and activities to confront its agenda and advance conservative ideas. Conservative students have traditionally followed one of two campus activism models.

The first is “Passive Activism.” Some groups are active by holding social events, running voter registration drives, and so on. None of these activities are inherently wrong and can be a component of a group’s programs, but they do little to advance conservative ideas on campus or challenge the Left’s agenda. The underlying philosophy of this model is that as long as the Left doesn’t directly attack the conservatives on campus, then the conservatives will not interfere with any of the leftist groups’ plans. It is a philosophy of accommodation.

A more effective approach is “Aggressive Activism.” Groups that follow this style make a point to constantly challenge leftist ideas and further conservatism each week. These groups are effective by hosting speakers, writing op-eds, distributing flyers and leaflets, create petition drives, among other activities. Groups that follow this style of activism traditionally make a greater impact than groups following the passive model. These groups have developed an “activist mentality,” through which they more effectively further conservative ideas and programs.

Compare these two activism models to how President Ronald Reagan and his predecessors, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Jerry Ford and others, dealt with the former Soviet Union. Reagan’s predecessors attempted to appease the Soviets with policies like Deténte or convergence. Their hope was to avoid confrontations—to “live and let live,” even though the Communists’ goal was to defeat and subjugate the Free World and kept their subjects enslaved. The Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter eras saw freedom slowly losing ground to communism, and the gulags took a wicked toll against those communism oppressed. Ronald Reagan reversed this trend, in part, because of his confrontational style–denouncing the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” and calling for Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Reagan’s more activist approach led to the collapse of communism.

Conservative students should strive to follow the aggressive model—the “Ronald Reagan Model”—of campus activism.

This fall, Young America’s Foundation is helping campus conservative activists employ this model and flood their campuses with conservative ideas and initiatives. Right now, hundreds of campuses are preparing to remember the 2,977 people murdered by radical jihadists through the “9/11: Never Forget Project.”

In October, they will participate in “No More Che Day” (which takes place on the anniversary of Che Guevara’s execution in Bolivia on October 9) to educate their peers on the numerous atrocities committed by this murderer. Young conservatives will also remind leftist students, professors, and administrators that collectivist and socialist ideas do not work by organizing the annual Freedom Week event. Freedom Week recognizes the November 9 anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Veterans Day.

More ideas can be found in our Campus Conservative Battleplan which can be downloaded directly at Finally, the Foundation can help students host more than 70 conservative speakers including Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, George Allen, Ben Stein, David Horowitz, John Stossel and HUMAN EVENTS editor Jason Mattera.

By following the Reagan Model of Activism, conservative students can effectively challenge and hopefully defeat the Left at their school.