Move Over, Ann Coulter
Last fall, a sophomore at Arizona State University named Matthew Jezierski started a club in honor of a group he considers to be oppressed and undervalued: the white male. The Caucasian American Men of ASU grabbed attention thanks to the club's name, but Jezierski insisted it wasn't a white pride organization. Jezierski, who is fluent in Polish (he was born in the United States), said he only wanted to promote cultural awareness. He didn't understand why being of European descent is anything to be ashamed of.
CAMASU copied its mission statement almost verbatim from the African American Men of ASU, with a few obvious changes. Its supporters (at one time, the club had 40 members) told reporters that white males are quickly becoming a minority on college campuses and in America, and that their numbers are declining by outstanding percentages.
Um, not quite. Not in Arizona, and definitely not at Arizona State. In 2006, 283 black ASU students graduated with about 7,000 of their white peers.
Once again, Arizona became the national butt of a joke. Even Conan O'Brien made fun.
"A group of students at Arizona State University have caused a controversy because they've been going by the name The Campus Caucasian Club," O'Brien said in a November broadcast of Late Night. "Administrators have asked the group to go back to its original name, The Golf Team."
When the club started, Jezierski told the campus newspaper, "This club is a way to instill pride in each other and not be ashamed we're Caucasian males."
But recently, when contacted by New Times, he sounded sheepish. "It dwindled off," he said. "There's not much interest in it." He didn't really want to talk about the club anymore.
Maybe that's because Jezierski wasn't really the one behind it in the first place.
The truth is that a woman started the Caucasian American Men of ASU: a blond-haired, blue-eyed former beauty pageant queen named Emily Mitchell, who never even went to Arizona State University.
Without Mitchell, an energetic 24-year-old hired gun dropped onto the ASU campus from South Carolina, Jezierski's idea would likely have remained just that. Emily Mitchell looks like just another undergrad, but she's actually a political organizer working for a Virginia-based nonprofit called the Leadership Institute.
The Leadership Institute was founded in the late '70s to put young conservatives into prominent positions. Four years ago, LI started a campus leadership program. It's Mitchell's job to push students like Jezierski to become active in what she calls the conservative movement. She takes the kids from idea to action. And she relishes the controversy some of her organizations, like CAMASU, create.
Mitchell started 57 clubs on Arizona college campuses during the 2006-2007 school year, including CAMASU; the New Sexual Revolution, an abstinence club; and the Network of Enlightened Women, a conservative women's group opposed to radical feminism and concepts such as women's studies or The Vagina Monologues, one she says she'd like to be a part of if she were a student. She also started Choice Magazine, a libertarian publication. And she supported established clubs like ASU's anti-abortion group Students for Life, founding chapters on other college campuses.
Surprisingly, she doesn't work closely with the College Republicans. Though some of her acolytes may be involved with that group, she doesn't seek them out. The Leadership Institute is interested in focusing on issues, not politicians.
It would be easy to stereotype Emily Mitchell she's just the kind of Ann Coulterish conservative (even looks like her) the left loves to hate. But Mitchell defies the stereotype of the slack-jawed racist or religious wing nut.
A member of Mensa and a perennial scholarship winner, she holds a degree in biology. And she's charming. In one breath, Mitchell can explain why she's against Hillary Clinton, affirmative action and feminism, then switch gears with a smile and offer you a cookie.
She considers herself a new kind of activist, in charge of an anti-revolutionary revolution, but what's more interesting is that someone her age is even active in politics at all.
This generation of college students isn't exactly known for political activity, and ASU has rightfully earned the nickname Apathetic State University. The only times students are truly excited about politics are when they involve a brush with celebrity. Last fall, when former President Clinton visited campus to push the Democratic midterm agenda, students mobbed Hayden Lawn to catch a glimpse. Few showed interest in the warm-up act, stump speeches from local politicians the ones they'd be voting for or against (assuming they voted at all). Clinton's charisma was what drew them outside in the hot sun for over an hour.
And in 2004, when ASU hosted the third presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry, the campus was abuzz with political activity but only when the national news cameras were rolling. When CNN filmed an episode of Crossfire live from Hayden Lawn, students packed the front rows, waving signs every time the cameraman zoomed out for a panoramic shot, but were silent when the cameras turned off for the day.
That's not to say ASU students are alone in their indifference. In 2004, during a presidential election heavily marketed to the youth vote, turnout among college students was disappointing. And in the 2006 midterm elections, largely touted as a turning point in American politics, the youth vote will likely be lower than that of any other demographic when the numbers are crunched, says Michael McDonald, a voter behavior expert for the Brookings Institute.
"I will bet my life, quite frankly, that older people voted at higher rates than younger people in 2006," he says.
Clint Bolick, a conservative libertarian who recently joined the Goldwater Institute to launch a center for constitutional law, says the numbers aren't surprising.
"The last time I remember an issue galvanizing young people was a very long time ago, and that was the draft," he says. "Even the Iraq war may seem a little abstract because we don't have a draft. Issues that directly affect students aren't there."
It doesn't seem to bother, or even occur to, Emily Mitchell that many students on campus just aren't interested. The last thing on her mind is apathy.
"It hasn't been that long since I was a college student. I remember sitting in political science class with my hand raised for seven minutes and nobody calling on me because they thought they knew what I was going to say," she says. "I remember thinking that The Vagina Monologues was not the best way to help women and wishing I could do something about it," she says.
She got her wish.
"We are the new rebels. The liberals are the academic elite, and we are the ones breaking them down," she says. "They're like the generals. But there are only a few of them. We're the ones in the trenches doing the fighting. So, I can walk away with a smile knowing the ones on the highest horses are shot first."
The Leadership Institute is not the only conservative group challenging what some perceive as a leftist bias on college campuses. Controversial writer and activist David Horowitz has his Campaign for Academic Freedom. Aside from penning a couple of books on the topic (The Professors and Indoctrination U: The Left's War Against Academic Freedom), Horowitz and his colleagues at the Freedom Center in Los Angeles have written an "academic bill of rights," which they have tried to make both federal and state law.
Horowitz says a professor's politics should never be known, even in a political science class. He says too many students graduate with a bias learned in classes like Chicano or women's studies.
Whether or not bias exists on ASU's campus is difficult to gauge. There is no document that lists the political leanings of professors.
Mitchell isn't the first conservative to stir the pot at ASU. In the 1980s, a group of three Jay Heiler, Matthew Scully and Len Munsil rose to powerful campus leadership positions, causing a stir on campus and earning the nickname The God Squad. (All have been heard from since: Heiler went on to become chief of staff for then-Governor Fife Symington, Scully wrote speeches for Dan Quayle and George W. Bush, and Munsil made an unsuccessful bid for governor last year.)
Like Emily Mitchell, the three stood to fight for conservative values, and they also found a professor, Mark Reader, to pick a fight with. Reader was a political science professor involved in the anti-nuclear movement. He spoke about liberalism and conservatism in the classroom, where his opinions about nuclear power and other environmental issues were well-known. He was singled out by The God Squad and a D.C.-based group, Accuracy in Academia, as a mouthpiece for the left. It got so bad for him that he received death threats, and the story made national headlines.
Reader, who retired nine years ago, says the persecution of professors who want to challenge the powers that be continues, and so does political inertia from students.
"People have been kept ignorant. They just don't understand the relationship between cause and effect," he says. "There's been a great failing of the educational process. The other thing going on is: Young people, those who are thoughtful, might have an underlying sense of hopelessness."
Emily Mitchell is one young person full of hope. She starts her workday early. She's up by 6 a.m., answering e-mails from a network of students stretched across Arizona and New Mexico. Then, she has phone calls to make. A typical daily schedule is filled with notes like, "Call Chasity and reassure her and check progress," and "Call Sandra to ask how meeting went."
By midmorning, Mitchell's in her white Jeep Cherokee (she calls it the Protest Mobile), on her way to school. She works at all the ASU campuses, Scottsdale, Mesa and Glendale community colleges, and other schools in the Valley. She's never exactly sure where she'll wind up by the end of the day, so she keeps the Jeep stocked with essentials: poster board, paint, a table, a bullhorn and cookies.
On a hot morning in April, she's running a few minutes behind schedule for a demonstration she helped ASU Students for Life stage. It's national Pro-Life T-shirt day, so Mitchell's got a full plate of demonstrations to manage. Before she arrives at the display outside ASU's Memorial Union, the six or so students manning the table mill around a graphic, eight-foot anti-abortion poster. They arrange pamphlets and plastic fetuses on a table and glance around for someone to educate. Dozens of students pass by without even blinking. No one stops to ask questions, and the anti-abortion students hang back. They aren't passing out literature or starting conversations.
But once Mitchell shows up, they become lively. They still aren't shouting slogans (though one boy is setting up a microphone), but they work harder to appear interested and a few students walk up to the table to ask questions.
A thin, sweet-looking girl looks around nervously. This is her first time working a table for Students for Life. She smiles when she sees Mitchell. Mitchell's kind, but firm.
"Can we practice the dialogue?" she asks the girl.
As the girl opens her mouth to say yes, a group of three boys approaches the table full of questions about late-term abortion. When her student falters, Mitchell is there to redirect the conversation. The next group that comes up gets Mitchell's spiel almost verbatim, and the trainee gains confidence. When asked a question about rape, she gives a bold answer "many women think of the baby as a source of joy that came out of a bad experience" but gives it with enough Mitchell-esque confidence that the group seems to accept what she's saying.
After about an hour, Mitchell is running late for another anti-abortion event at ASU West. The club there started just a week ago and it needs her help. She jumps into the Protest Mobile, almost hitting a curb as she exits the garage.
"Women drivers, no survivors," she says, laughing at her joke.
The long drive to the West Valley, through tedious traffic, doesn't faze her. She spends hours behind the wheel as part of this job.
"I try to be equally as excited about green lights as I am upset about the red ones," she says.
On the way, she talks about how happy she is with her students especially the girl she worked with earlier.
"She made a very daring argument about the case of rape, but she made it calmly and logically, and they accepted it," says the proud teacher. "She's not beating them over the head with a stick."
Mitchell develops close friendships with her students, sometimes lingering over food with them at Waffle House until early in the morning. She says over and over that the job isn't about her; it's about what the students can do. Without her presence on campus, they may be a little lost. (An understatement.)
"We teach them how to generate effectiveness," she says. "I figure out the color bicycle they want to ride and teach them how to ride it."
After arriving at ASU West, Mitchell walks quickly to where her students are already set up. Their display is much less impressive than the one at the Tempe campus: It's just a table with some students hanging around in anti-abortion shirts. Mitchell slips on a shirt and hands the leader of the group a clipboard to hold the membership signup sheet he's holding.
Again, she's in charge at first, doing most of the talking to students that pass by. Students on this campus are even less-engaged, but she manages to collect some signatures. After a while, the other volunteers take her cue and collect signatures on their own.
About an hour and a half later, they call it a day and Mitchell gets ready to drive down to Coolidge, where she plans to do some recruiting at Central Arizona College and then follow up with students at Scottsdale Community College, who are planning another anti-abortion demonstration tomorrow.
Unlike other activist leaders, Mitchell insists she's not in the business of changing minds. She'd rather reach students who are already conservative and then motivate them into action. She's fond of referring to the Leadership Institute as a "do tank," not a think tank.
"It's not my job to convince every person on every college campus that conservative is right," she says simply.
But she does have a strategy. Her philosophy is that you start by simply showing up, giving conservative students a point to rally around. And it doesn't hurt to have a display that grabs attention.
One idea she borrowed from a Texas LI representative is an anti-illegal immigration game she calls "hole in the border." The premise is simple: Paint a map of America on a piece of plywood, cut a big hole in it and have students toss beanbags through the hole.
"Of course, everyone gets it in because the hole is so big," she says. "We give out prizes [that say] 'Congratulations! Free in-state tuition!' or 'You don't have to pay your hospital bills.' The carnival atmosphere makes everyone want to play. We had a blind guy play, and he got it in on the first try."
The Leadership Institute takes care of its representatives, who usually are fresh out of college. They work for 10 weeks during each semester, receiving $500 for each group they start. The Institute covers living expenses.
Though LI promotes conservative values, it is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and lists itself as nonpartisan. But it is clear that founder and president Morton Blackwell, at least, is a staunch Republican. He's served in various parts of the RNC since 1965 and is currently a Republican committeeman for Virginia. Campaign finance records reveal Blackwell has made thousands of dollars in personal donations to Republican candidates, including Steve Forbes and President Bush. There were no donations listed for any Democratic candidates or organizations.
The group's Web site includes a list of "deep blue campuses" (ASU isn't on it) and a downloadable video called "Roots of the Ultra Left," with with segments featuring titles like "What Socialists Really Think About Your Family and our American Culture." The group sells cufflinks and ties emblazoned with capitalist Adam Smith's profile.
"There is nothing on campus that could be described as conservative," Blackwell says. "It's really outrageous. Families that send their kids to college don't expect they're going to be in left-wing indoctrination centers."
That's one of the reasons he started the campus leadership initiative Mitchell is a part of. Representatives hit campus every fall behind tables and recruitment posters with a picture of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher under the word "yes," and Michael Moore and Fidel Castro under the word "no."
Blackwell names Mitchell as one of the program's most effective representatives.
"We try and select people who are going to be mature and responsible. Dealing with young people, you always have a mixed bag," he says. Emily, he adds, is one of its stars.
Mitchell is accustomed to being a star. Her life is one success story after another. Born in Lancaster, South Carolina, she says she had a pretty typical upbringing. Her dad was in textiles. As a child, she competed in pageants and won the title of Little Miss Lancaster, where the biggest part of the competition was the interview question. The committee asked 9-year-old Mitchell what she thought of rap music.
"I told them I thought it was abysmal," she says.
She lost interest in pageants by the time she got to high school, though much later, she lived her childhood dream one more time, winning the title of Miss Lancaster and competing in the Miss America-sponsored Miss South Carolina pageant. She didn't win, but she says it was enough just making it as Miss Lancaster.
She discovered politics in college. Like many in her generation, Mitchell says it was the September 11 terrorist attacks, which struck when she was a freshman at Duke University, that grabbed her attention. She remembers riding the shuttle bus in silence to class that day and, later, watching other students burn a flag on campus, which shocked her.
"It was seeing the celebration of the attack on our country that made me realize I have to do something about being American," she says.
It was then that she started to wake up to what she says is the "leftist bias" on university campuses. By the next year, she had transferred to Furman University, a small liberal arts school in Greenville, South Carolina, where she initially majored in political science.
It was a political science class that brought her to the Leadership Institute. Mitchell recalls a world politics class with a professor who told her there was no way she could get a passing grade on a paper she was writing defending capitalism over communism.
"She told me there was no suitable argument," says Mitchell.
The professor, Katherine Kaup, recalls the exchange differently.
"I remember the paper wasn't strongly researched and I told her to rewrite it. She wasn't happy," she says. "I encourage them to take any view as long as they defend their argument. I'm not a socialist, either. I'm a card-carrying Republican."
Around that time, Mitchell met a campus representative from the Leadership Institute who helped her figure out how to found a conservative club, Leaders for a Free America.
"I thought: This is really important. I knew if this was happening to me, I wasn't the only student who had been discriminated against because of her political beliefs," she says.
From that day forward, she was part of the conservative activist movement.
"I wasn't very heavily involved with College Republicans," she says. "I was involved with issues themselves. Because what's the purpose of any political party? Not to advance ideals. It's to get people elected. That's it. Let's get to the core of things. Let's get down to business. That's not the concern of any political party."
She doesn't like to talk about what candidates she might endorse. As a representative of LI, she feels she needs to keep her views to herself and push the work she does with her students.
She will disclose this: "If I meet a political candidate in favor of naps and cookies [I'd endorse him]."
She's joking, of course. That's the fun thing about Mitchell one second, she's dead serious about politics; the next, she's goofing around.
"People need to loosen up," she says. "Activism is fun."
Originally, she wanted to get her doctorate and become a professor. But although Mitchell loved the work, she hated the research system that requires professors to spend more time hunting for funding than teaching or researching.
"The reason I cited to my colleagues was, 'I actually want to be an artist,'" she says, because "molecular biologists don't ask questions about art."
Actually, in addition to all the other things she does, Mitchell is an artist. She sells her oil paintings and photography at the Butterfly Gallery in Tucson, her home base. She lives with her husband, a fellow scientist who works at the University of Arizona. The pair met in college when he was a lab assistant in her genetics lab, where she schemed to get his attention.
"I pretended I didn't know what I was doing with a microscope," she says. "He'd come fix it and I'd mess it up again. I'd actually already worked in a lab for like a year at this point."
With a world so fueled by politics, you'd expect Mitchell to have a mate who shares her views. He doesn't at least, he's somewhat further to the left.
"Well, he claims he's not, but he's moderately liberal," she says. "I have plenty of liberal friends. I was in a sorority, and the president was as liberal as they come."
After she graduated from Furman, Mitchell moved to Tucson, where her fiancé, Geoff, lived. There, she got a job in a research lab and worked there until funding ran out. The two were married in June 2006. Around that same time, she was contacted by the Leadership Institute and was offered a job as a field representative. She started last September.
Though she maintains her views are not relevant, that it's the students who count, she mentions more than once that if she could join any of the clubs she helped start, the Network of Enlightened Women would be her top pick. And when she talks about a recent protest of illegal immigration that she helped stage at Northern Arizona University, it's pretty clear the First Amendment is a big deal to her.
During that protest, there was a telling altercation. Mitchell and three NAU students were collecting signatures for a petition and had set up a wall made out of cardboard boxes to represent the border. It turned out they were sitting in an area that wasn't designated as a free speech zone, and an administrator asked them to move. The students refused until the police were called. Video footage of the incident is on YouTube. A favorite tactic of Mitchell's is to photograph and record every action and post it online as an example of leftist bias.
When she talks about the incident, her sweet Southern twang hardens, and it's obvious she's angry that the police were called.
"We were, like, you can move our stuff, but you can't move us. I always encourage my students to take the moral high road, so that means not doing illegal things," she says.
But is she willing to get arrested for the cause? She hesitates when asked.
"There are things I want to say, but you know . . . There's me and then there's me doing my job. As an LI employee, I'm not going to advocate getting arrested," she says, pausing before adding, "If I was the student, I would have [let them arrest me] for standing in a place that's free."
Though she is required to take the "moral high road" as an employee of the Institute, Mitchell isn't a stranger to confrontation. The incident at NAU is tame compared with an altercation she had in October regarding the Caucasian men's club.
She takes a firm stance that the club is necessary to even a playing field dotted with culturally specific clubs and classes in Chicano studies, women's studies and African American studies. She says the club was meant to promote equality (and, of course, just like other clubs on campus, it could not exclude anyone from membership based on race or gender).
"It's about balance. The African American men . . . their name is equally divisive. They're excluding Caucasian men. The Caucasian population is declining by percentages making it a growing minority," Mitchell says. "He [Jezierski] speaks fluent Polish and was offended. There's a separate Latino studies or Chicano studies, but nothing for people who are white in color. They don't have anything to represent Slavic or German studies. Why aren't European cultures considered diverse?"
But that's not so surprising. What is shocking is a fight that took place between Mitchell and two professors.
What really happened that day depends on whom you're talking to. Mitchell has her story, the professors have theirs. The details of the police report are straightforward.
On September 29, Mitchell was manning a table and passing out fliers to drum up interest in CAMASU. Two fine arts professors Kate Duncan and Claudia Mesch passed the table and stopped to talk to Mitchell. Mesch asked Mitchell why the club was necessary, which sparked a debate between the women the older, who had lived through the civil rights movement, and the younger, Mitchell, who insisted that movement was a thing of the past.
"I said, 'With all due respect, the civil rights movement happened before most of these students' parents were even born. It's been 40 years since the '60s,'" says Mitchell. "She was just beside herself."
As the exchange became more heated, Mitchell pulled out her camera and began to record a video, asking the professors for their names. (Click here to view a clip.)
At that point, Duncan, who had remained quiet, told Mitchell she did not want her picture taken and refused to give her name. Mitchell continued recording, holding the camera three inches from the professor's face. When she refused to stop, Duncan reached forward to block the lens. (View the footage here.)
This is where the two stories differ.
Duncan says she only wanted to stop Mitchell from taking her picture and did not reach out to harm Mitchell or the camera.
Mitchell says Duncan violently attempted to grab the camera, breaking it and injuring her hand in the process.
In a statement she wrote for the police report, Mitchell says, "Her short fingernails scratched my hand until I bled . . . I somehow managed to physically pry her fingers out of my skin and off my camera . . . I tried to get them to repeat their hate crime speech . . the only information they would give me was that they were in the College of Fine Arts."
After the altercation, the professors left. In a memo sent to Mary Stevens in ASU's Office of General Counsel, Duncan wrote that she didn't think "much more of it other than it was unpleasant and that the girl was really out of control." However, Mesch filed a complaint with ASU's police department.
Mitchell didn't forget about it, either, though she also didn't go directly to the police. A couple of hours after the incident, she went to the dean's office and spoke to the secretary and the dean, "still shaking like a leaf," according to the report. She showed them the video, but no one recognized the professors.
She did not file a police report for several days. She wrote in a victim's statement: "Five days later, the injury is still sore and scabbed over." In a photograph taken of her hand by ASU police, it is difficult to see the marking. The report says only that the skin around the injury was pink and "appeared to be a surface scratch."
On the day Mitchell reported the alleged assault, she directed students to post fliers around campus featuring pictures of Duncan and Mesch under the heading "wanted for assault." The fliers listed the number for ASU Police but were not associated with the official investigation. The fliers violated several parts of ASU's sign-posting policy and were taken down. Meanwhile, Mitchell was kicked off campus and allowed back only on official business.
On the Arizona Growler, a conservative blog based in Tucson, Mitchell offers her defense: "The 'WANTED . . . for assault' that the professor believes may have implicitly indicated her in the crime was just a them on the Old Wild West kind of posters. We do live in Arizona, after all . . . there was absolutely no vindictive or premeditated motive at work here."
Under Morton Blackwell's direction, Mitchell decided to press assault charges. The case was dismissed in March.
Mitchell says she was told the case was thrown out because there wasn't enough evidence to show a reasonable likelihood of conviction "beyond a reasonable doubt that an injury occurred."
Duncan, a quiet woman who prefers to spend her time in Alaska's Yukon Valley studying indigenous beadwork, declined the request for an extensive interview but did say she's glad the ordeal is behind her.
Mitchell was perturbed that the charge was dismissed, and she's not thrilled with the legal system. "Doesn't it defeat the purpose of defense if they won't defend you unless they're convinced they can win?"
Today, the Caucasian American Men of ASU no longer exists. The club was never officially recognized by the university, and Jezierski acknowledges that interest fell off after a month or so. In April, Jezierski told the ASU student newspaper that he'd decided to join a Polish group on campus and that other members joined such clubs as the German Devils Deutsch Club.
Though one member of the club was quoted as saying the name was pretty much just a publicity stunt, Jezierski denies it.
"It was a serious issue," he told the State Press.
But not serious enough to actively pursue not without Emily Mitchell around. Not long after CAMASU was founded, Mitchell's turf was expanded to include New Mexico. Without constant care, a club like CAMASU wasn't likely to grow. Mitchell has decided to move on.
Her contract with the Leadership Institute expired in April, and she decided not to renew. Instead, she's decided to become a high school biology teacher.
Some of Mitchell's clubs have survived. The New Sexual Revolution (a group that works for abstinence before marriage) has about a dozen committed members, with a much larger e-mail list. And when the club hosted Dr. Janet Smith, an anti-contraceptive advocate, on campus this spring, more than 100 students showed up to hear her talk.
Another of Mitchell's projects, Choice Magazine, just went to press on its second issue and has a dedicated core of students writing and editing it. In all, she started 57 clubs in Arizona and New Mexico. At $500 each, that's some lucrative activism but still, she's ready to move on.
"People keep asking me if I'm sad," she says. "But once you're a part of the movement, you never really leave."
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