Armed With Chalk, Trump Supporters Are a New Breed of College Republicans

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Liberty University students attend a Trump rally on campus in Lynchburg, Virginia on January 18. Experts on youth voters say Trump’s supporters on campuses belong to a new, more intense breed of college Republicans. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

“If you’re listening right now, you’re one of the lucky ones that survived the Chalkening.”

That’s how the fraternity-culture and southern-college-culture brand Old Row opened its weekly podcast on Wednesday. The line, fit for an apocalypse movie, referred to a campaign by Donald Trump’s young supporters on college campuses. Their weapon of choice in their crusade to push their candidate into the White House? Chalk.

After students protested in March following the appearance of pro-Trump messages written in chalk at Emory University—which students who demonstrated said they saw as part of wider, ongoing racial issues on the school’s Atlanta campus—the national organization Students for Trump instructed its members to carry out more chalkings. The idea apparently came from Dan Scavino, Trump’s social media director, who on April 1 posted on Twitter about what he called “The Chalkening” and tagged Students for Trump. Old Row picked up on the effort, and spread the word to its 381,000 social media followers.

Young Trump supporters received the messages by Students for Trump and Old Row loud and clear. On its podcast, Old Row said that students from at least 100 colleges submitted verified photos of chalkings—meaning the school was clearly identifiable, in some cases through a Snapchat geofilter featuring the school’s name.

At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, students wrote “WE WANT THE WALL,” a reference to the wall Trump has promised on the Mexican border. At Alfred University in northwestern New York, they wrote “TRUMP 2016 BUILD THAT WALL.” At the University of Oregon, a chalk message said: “U of O [Loves] The Wall.” Additional chalk messages appeared at schools across the South, Midwest and the Southwest, including at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, Oklahoma State University, Ohio State University, Mississippi State University, Tennessee Technological University, University of Nebraska, North Carolina State University, Arizona State University, University of Arkansas, University of Alabama and elsewhere. Students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro even used paint.

 

#Babes4Trump #TheChalkening

A photo posted by Old Row (@oldrowofficial) on

Meanwhile, Scavino has continued posting on Twitter about the Chalkening. And Old Row even offered gift certificates to its merchandise store for the best chalkings, saying in its podcast that the chalking campaign was one of its most successful efforts ever. “We should take The Chalkening international and try to get it done on like the Taj Mahal,” one of the podcasters said.

Looking at this behavior, experts on youth voters say Trump’s supporters on campuses belong to a new breed of college Republicans. Just as Trump’s campaign platform is said to be less about specific policies than general rhetoric, some of his student supporters seem more interested in grabbing photos for Snapchat of one another in “Make America Great Again” hats or showing off Trump-branded beer pong tables than trying to educate classmates who disagree on why they support their candidate. Still, such methods of promoting their candidate could prove successful.

The people behind Old Row, whose Instagram account features videos of “poop dollar” pranks and beer koozies with the slogan “No Fat Chicks,” say Trump’s frank style resonates with many of today’s coeds.

“Trump is the first politician in a long time to not care about political correctness,” a representative for Old Row tells Newsweek via email. (The person declined to provide a name, as the brand operates anonymously.) “But it’s not just about Trump,” the Old Row rep continues. “Political correctness on college campuses has started turning into actual political targeting, which we felt needed to be highlighted and that is what #TheChalkening is all about.”

Old Row exchanged chalking images with Students for Trump, which says it has 5,000 members and hundreds of chapters in around 40 states. Ryan Fournier, its national chairman and a freshman at Campbell University in North Carolina, says he started the movement as a Twitter account in September. Within a month, it had 15,000 followers, Fournier says, and so he brought on help and began recruiting state directors.

“We decided with our large following we should really turn this into something big,” says Andrew Nixon, the group’s national field director and a freshman at Brunswick Community College in North Carolina.

Now, Students for Trump has a national team of around 16 or 17 people and directors in each of the states where it has chapters, and currently has 53,000 followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The effort is entirely student-run and volunteer, Fournier says. Sales of merchandise fund operating costs and campaigning efforts, he says. George Lombardi, the former executive director of the International Council for Economic Development, is an adviser.

While Students for Trump is not officially affiliated with the Trump campaign, Fournier says he has been in touch with Trump’s team about the organization. He says the Trump camp encouraged him to expand. The group does groundwork to support the candidate, such as helping to find volunteers for campaign offices and rallies, making phone calls to potential supporters and tabling at campus events.

 

Ain't she a beaut? Credit: @ericschell1 @jonnycastor @czervos.

A photo posted by Old Row (@oldrowofficial) on

What Led to Trumpmania on Campus?

Katy Harriger, a professor at Wake Forest University and an expert on youth voters, says the Great Recession, the Black Lives Matter movement and newer social media platforms such as Snapchat and Yik Yak have mobilized young voters in a way that did not happen even in the last two presidential elections.

Polls suggest that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is favored among college students. Harriger says today’s college students skew liberal because they “came of age” during the election and re-election of President Barack Obama. “You can think of them as the Obama Generation,” she says. “They’re also the most diverse generation and so there are more people in the age group who represent traditional Democratic constituencies.... This generation is also frequently called the most tolerant generation.”

The pro-Trump movement on campuses, Harriger says, is likely a response to those factors, especially for members of Greek life who are facing “a crackdown on college campuses on fraternity culture” because some have said it promotes binge drinking and sexual assault.

Harriger also says the rhetoric from both parties during this election cycle has never been so aggressive, and the pro-Trump student movement seems to be more intense than previous college Republican movements. The College Republican National Committee, which dates to 1892, has more than 1,800 chapters and 250,000 members.

“On both the left and the right there’s this really strong feeling out there…that the system is broken,” she says. “They had a lot of hope in 2008 and they are somewhat skeptical now about what can be accomplished with the system as it operates. So I would say the students for Trump are coming at that from the right and the students for Bernie are coming at that from the left.”

 

Strong showing from Mississippi State #TheChalkening

A photo posted by Old Row (@oldrowofficial) on

Despite the momentum of the pro-Trump campus movement, conservative students at liberal schools have said they feel afraid to speak about their politics. “I don’t feel comfortable voicing my views, and I have to hide the fact that I’m Republican from those I don’t know, because I feel that I will be judged and labeled if I do voice that,” a freshman at George Washington University previously told Newsweek. The New York Post said last week that at New York University, Trump supporters are “afraid to show their faces.”

Students for Trump leaders say they’ve experienced similar backlash. “I’ve been labeled as a white supremacist, a racist, a KKK person, all of this,” says Nixon. “Chapter members are afraid and people they talk to are afraid to join our organization because they feel that the left is going to attack them, demonize them and ridicule them for their beliefs.” Fournier says some members have left the organization because of the scrutiny, which involved personal attacks and physical threats.

“If they want to violently attack us, I say go back at them,” Fournier says. “Peaceful protest works to a certain extent, it does. But then once that doesn’t work and once every other option does not work, violent protest or whatever you want to call it comes into effect.”

When asked to elaborate, he clarifies he does not mean physical violence, but adds, “If it comes down to that, if they start punching you...defend yourself.”

Only Sanders appears to have as large a scale of college supporters as Trump. The website for Students for Bernie says it is a grassroots movement with 263 chapters.

As for Clinton, the Twitter account Students for Hillary claims to be “the official account for our grassroots team to elect Hillary Clinton,” but lists no website other than the candidate’s. Similarly, the Facebook page Students for Ted Cruz says, “Students across America are joining the movement to support Senator Ted Cruz in his fight for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.” The page links only to the candidate’s website.

 

Bluehairs are crying themselves to sleep over #TheChalkening and we're over here like...

A photo posted by Old Row (@oldrowofficial) on

This presidential election will be the first in which many of Students for Trump’s leaders can vote, including Fournier and Nixon.

For Fournier, Trump’s appeal has to do with his stance on immigration, veterans and the economy. “Right now the system’s broken,” he says. “I understand he’s not perfect, he’s not going to be able to [fix] it overnight. There’s no perfect candidate. But I look at it as the fact where he’s going to be able to get those people needed to get [the country] back on track.” Also, he adds, “the wall isn’t a bad thing.”

“I’ve idolized him,” Nixon says of Trump. “He resembles the American dream for me and that’s really what I want to achieve.

“I think he will rejuvenate the American people’s ideas,” he adds, “and he will make this country, you know, great again.”