Turning Point USA's UTA chapter offers students a safe space to share diverse views and opinions

Turning Point USA copresidents Caitlyn Burge, left, and Reese Surles, right, on Dec. 4 at the University Center. The conservative-leaning organization encourages debate on different ideas on campus. 

When accounting freshman Reese Surles and Caitlyn Burge, communications and English junior, inherited UTA’s Turning Point USA chapter, they had to start from scratch.

Turning Point USA is a nonprofit organization that promotes the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government, according to the organization’s website. They have a presence on over 1,500 high school and college campuses.

UTA’s chapter was founded in 2016 by communication studies senior Estrella Gonzales in her freshman year, Burge said. The chapter then went through a period without leadership and started to fall apart.

After both of them were interviewed for the role of president, Surles and Burge now serve as copresidents of the chapter. Burge said that following their joint interview for the job, it became clear that they both had similar visions for the future of the club, so they decided to split the power.

“We both knew we wanted to, so we were just like ‘Let’s just share it,’” she said.

Gonzales said her leadership style was different from Surles and Burge because she was more provocative in her advocacy. Their background in student government brought more order and structure, which she hadn’t done, Gonzales said.

“I felt that my organization could use a change,” she said. “I had met some good milestones when I was president.”

Surles said he was told the club was previously a group for internet trolls to meet up once every other month. Once he and Burge took over and told the group it was going to be about politics, no one wanted to stay in the club.

Burge said while some were disappointed, a lot of new people were excited to see what the group had to offer.

But it was a slow start. After inheriting the club at the start of the fall semester, there was a point where only one person would attend the meetings, she said.

“That was disheartening, to say the least,” Burge said.

Now around seven people come routinely to the meetings, Surles said, with five more coming for events.

The biggest event of the semester was when film director Jaco Booyens came to speak with around 100 people in attendance, Burge said.

Getting Booyens to come to campus was hectic because she and Surles were doing the job of an entire staff of people, Burge said.

She said they filled out a form with Turning Point USA, printed out flyers and promoted it on social media, trying to get the word out any way they could.

It seemed like at every turn there was misfortune, she said. Her apartment lost the package with their flyers in it days before the event, and they had to scramble to collect the money to fund Booyens to come to campus because they forgot to fill out one last form.

Recently, the chapter held a debate on Christianity between Community Voices columnists Jonathan Demarest and Joshua Abaya. Surles said they reached out to Demarest and Abaya after reading their opposing columns in The Shorthorn.

Burge said they strived to make it a respectful and level playing field for anybody who disagreed as well as making it feel safe and welcoming.

Surles said although the organization has a conservative leaning, they are open to everyone to come and discuss.

Burge said she wanted the club to be a safe space for people of diverse views to debate and share their opinions.

“I think originally that’s what college was supposed to be,” Burge said. “It’s a place for people from diverse backgrounds.”

@megancardona_

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