I was 22 years old and was completing my first six months of work at Delta Sigma Phi Headquarters. My assignment was to re-establish a chapter at Drexel University (shoutout to Gamma Chi!).
Among those men who took a unique risk to establish a new fraternity chapter was Ryan Schwartz.
In 2016 Ryan established TheElectorateProject.com. After a grueling election, this website served to provide insight into the American electorate: voters, non-voters, natural-born or naturalized. Having an interest in politics myself, I felt compelled to partake in The Electorate Project, and to share his work with fans of Fraternity Man.
Enjoy our Q&A with Ryan Schwartz.
Q: What is “The Electorate Project”?
A: The Electorate Project was born from social media chaos. It’s a writing project that one could call a crowd-sourced blog.
Anyone is allowed to write and submit. Of course, posts are moderated and revision notes occasionally given, but we want to make sure that the stories we share are not just indictments of a particular candidate, bashing of a group, or anything that could easily serve as an angry Facebook post.
We want Americans to share who they are and how they got there – be it their upbringing, their environment, their experiences or even this particular election. Anger can be expected, but hate is not allowed. . .
Each post should allow the reader a look into who the author is as an individual, and authors are anonymous as they choose to be on the site.
A: It is born from social media. Right after the election my news feed erupted with angry posts from all sides. Trump supporters were angry about how they were characterized, Democrats were angry at the outcome, third party supporters were angry they didn’t get the numbers for larger representation, and classical Republicans were angry at how they felt people would perceive their party. . .
I thought, “Facebook is great and all, but it’s a bubble. Everyone is just stuck in their echo chamber, shouting at those who will come and give them pats on the back.” I’m guilty of it; everyone is guilty of it.
Actually, interestingly enough, it was an article on Cracked and Facebook posts from Trump supporters that really created the project in my mind. The post, which I highly recommend, is about why Americans voted for Trump.
They felt he would be a brick through the window to shout that Middle America was dying and needed assistance. But, thanks to a relatively large number of very vocal people, this large group of angry citizens that simply felt “passed over” was lumped in with “racism and hate.”
Simply put I wanted to let Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, Bernie supporters, Gary supporters or supporters of no one at all tell the story of who they are and what caused them to vote – or not vote – the way they did.
I didn’t want to hear the talking points of punditry or the he-said-she-said or the scandals; the news has enough of that. I wanted to give a place for individuals to talk about themselves in a way that says, “Hey! This is me. This is why I feel this way and what in my life caused me to feel this way,” and for someone else to read that and relate, or maybe they don’t relate, but can at the very least understand.
Q: What do you hope to come out of The Electorate Project?
A: Overall, at the end of the project – which doesn’t actually have an end – [I hope] at least one person who wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable telling their story has written and that at least one person has read a post by someone they would’ve normally written off immediately.
Also, there is hope to expand this beyond The Electorate Project’s concept. Not only would we like to make American political opinions more dynamic, our overall goal is to create more dynamic conversations around news and current issues. There is hope to spur critical thinking in a nation that is more inclined to political tribalism.
One motto I’ve given unofficially to the overall project is, “Politics Isn’t Sports.”
Q: What are some things you’ve noticed from your work so far?
A: I’ve noticed that I have more preconceived notions about people than I thought. Those notions were not about individuals; it’s about how I expected people to write based on parties or candidates I knew they supported.
My hypothesis was that people are dynamic. No one has views that line up with every stance their party of choice has, but I still assumed people would resort to trying to squeeze themselves into party lines (even with the relative anonymity the platform provides).
I was pleasantly surprised. Of the posts that have been sent to me so far, the ones on the site represent the majority. Granted, the earliest ones have a bit more political talk in them than the more recent ones, but they all give a sense of a thoughtful individual. They tell the story of person writing, giving insight into the “why” of who they are.
The other thing I’ve noticed is people have a hard time being introspective.
It’s hard to write about yourself without going on tangents, and that’s okay. Tangents are fine as long as they relate back to you. It’s vulnerable to write about your life, your struggles and what formed your opinions. There’s the worry that if you write the “wrong” opinion, people are going to lash out at it.
That’s why we have no comment section. This is a catalog of the American condition, as the site says, and it works well that way. As we expand, there will be other facets of the project which allow more community interactivity. For now, we just want to learn about individuals and help to humanize each other.
Q: Tell us about your fraternity experience. Why did you join?
A: I joined Drexel’s Delta Sigma Phi at the wishes of an ex, and a friend, and another friend, who referred me as a great candidate to help recolonize Delta Sig.
The chapter had some history to it, and I was always interested in being in a fraternity; I had just gotten hung up on the notion of “buying your friends” or of hazing, which I personally feel does not help build a brotherhood of respect in any way. That’s why I ended up as Sergeant-at-Arms (risk management/ritual), I suppose.
In the end, I joined because I wanted to be a part of something bigger. I wanted to help found something new and take part in molding it, and I wanted to put something cool on my resume.
Q: How, if at all, has your fraternity experience affected The Electorate Project?
A: There is a lot of politics played in a fraternity. There are factions and occasionally strong opinions. Chapter meetings are run based on parliamentary procedure, so I sometimes think, “Huh, that’s kind of familiar!” if I’m watching a clip of Congress in session.
All of that mixed with being a part of the executive board sparked an interest in U.S. politics. I was a strong Obama supporter in 2012 – the first election I could vote in, so I felt I had to pick a side and fight for it.
I was one of those people who treated politics like sports, so I knew this time around that something had to change.
Q: What do you think of the current state of fraternities and sororities?
A: I think they are at a crossroads. I mean, it isn’t much of a secret that Greek Life carries with it a negative connotation.
Having been a part of an organization and having worked with other organizations at Drexel, I know that there is a lot of good done as well. It isn’t as if fraternities and sororities put together charity events solely for the sake of publicity or “party money.”
Take Delta Phi Epsilon – At Drexel alone they raise tens of thousands of dollars for Cystic Fibrosis every year. These organizations want to help.
It just so happens that many prominent chapters of different fraternities and sororities are not particularly selective about who they allow to join. Assault is never okay. RAcism is never okay. These are not part of any fraternity’s core values and I hope Greek organizations can truly stamp it out.
Q: What is something you hope to see more of from fraternity men?
A: I want them to get involved. I know my fraternity partners with the Red Cross, and that my chapter took part in cleaning up several communities in West Philly, and that tons of other organizations make the news for money raised or gifts given or events held for different causes. . .
But I still think there’s more that can be done. I think that organizations so steeped in politics, so influential on their campuses, and having created many of the politicians currently in office have a privileged platform to enact change that transcends communities and transcends fundraising.
To be honest, I think everyone has that ability, but in the context of this question – Fraternity men are ordinary men that wanted to join something larger than themselves. They aren’t better than anyone else for having joined, but they have a network and a voice and it’s worth using.