SUNY New Paltz may be a diverse campus, but conservatives tend to be a rarity. Enter Clare Clifford and the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW), a conservative group of women continuing to add to this campus’ disparate population.
It’s no secret that most students on campus have a liberal perspective on things. However, contrary to expectations, there is a burgeoning group of conservative women at SUNY New Paltz.
Clare Clifford, a third-year accounting major, is the president of the SUNY New Paltz chapter of the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW), a national organization for young, conservative women. Founded in 2004 as a book club for conservatives at the University of Virginia, NeW is now active on over 25 campuses. NeW, which is nonpartisan, offers women the opportunity to network on campus and beyond, as well as to become more educated on conservative issues.
The organization boasts an alumni network in Washington, D.C. and New York City as well as annual attendance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a hallmark event for Republicans. Clifford added that NeW also offers advice on how to be a professional, providing tips on etiquette and parenthood while addressing topics that are not typically discussed in the classroom.
“I never talk about marriage while on campus, but most of us are going to get married within eight years and that’s of no concern?” Clifford asked. “It’s of importance economically as well as mentally speaking. I think we need to talk about those subjects first before digging into politics.”
While Clifford admits that she has been politically active for most of her life, she first became involved with NeW in the summer of 2015, when she attended one of their sponsored retreats. There, Clifford engaged with other like-minded women who openly discussed conservative beliefs and inspired her to start a chapter on campus, which officially chartered last semester.
Starting NeW has not been without challenges, as issues regarding freedom of speech and intellectual diversity have affected campuses nationwide, including SUNY New Paltz. Due to the tense atmosphere surrounding last year’s presidential election, Clifford opted against hosting a general interest meeting for NeW last semester. NeW now meets on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. in SUB 409.
“I think one thing is the amount of isolation conservative women face when so many other women tend to block you out by completely refusing to even acknowledge your point of view and therefore try to ignore you in every aspect,” Clifford said. “Women are harsh, they fight back differently, definitely more verbally or silently behind your back.”
Clifford said that since she became a national member of NeW she has been empowered to discuss her political beliefs on campus, even though she is not a political science major and most students do not agree with her views.
“I know that there are women, whether I see them or not, who do believe in what I believe,” Clifford said. “I’d like to see the administration bring in more conservatives because I feel like a lot of people don’t get to experience that side of politics. Even with Dr. Haidt’s [lecture], there was a standing ovation afterwards, but at the [subsequent] panel discussion, there was this mood that it was false and inaccurate and no one wanted to believe it. So there are flaws, and we can address them, but to be so biased and act like no one agrees is kind of funny to me.”
Clifford, who identifies as a first-wave feminist, expressed regret that the 2017 Women’s March, which was estimated as one of the largest protests in history, would be remembered solely as an anti-Trump protest. However, Clifford appreciates hearing opposing views and had actually considered attending the march to listen, as she does with protests on campus.
Clifford’s aim is to have NeW educate and empower women in the workforce and serve as an inspiration to all women on campus, regardless of their political affiliation. In citing a nonpolitical role model, Clifford named Lauren Stokes, an Arkansas businesswoman behind the Lauren James fashion line, as one of her inspirations, namely for her work as an entrepreneur and working mother.
“I think it’s my duty to make [NeW] as big as possible and get the word out,” Clifford said. “Someone after me will have conservative beliefs or interest in conservative ideas and it’s up to me as the president to get the marketing down and advertise effectively since we’re in a liberal area in New York. That’s what college is about: learning and not being stuck in a bubble.”