Our purpose


The Tom Sawyer Society is a registered student organization at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is a student run chapter of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an organization that seeks to inspire college students to discover, embrace, and advance the principles and virtues that make America free and prosperous. ISI's ideological orientation is towards the right of the political spectrum, but they give their Society's a great deal of choice over how they operate. The Tom Sawyer Society's model is to be a non-partisan space for students of all ideological persuasions to thoughtfully discuss important political and cultural issues. Since we are situated in the United States, we believe that that entails engaging with this country's own tradition of classical political liberalism and Christian cultural heritage. We certainly do not expect everyone to support that tradition and heritage, but it is impossible to deeply understand our contemporary political landscape without being keenly aware of it. Pursuant to that we are proud to count students from the political right, left, in-between, and neither among our members. We are here to support appreciation of and, conversely, when appropriate, criticism of that controversial Western tradition. That kind of engagement will, we think, make students in the Society not just better thinkers, but better people with fuller and more vibrant characters, more capable of rightly thinking and acting. This leads to the mission statement you see below.

We exist to foster in the University of Wisconsin–Madison community intellectual engagement with the ideas that informed and defined the Western tradition and the founding of the United States for the purpose of the developing of character in accord with virtue.
— Mission of the Tom Sawyer Society

A brief history

The Society was founded in Spring 2017 by Benjamin Rolsma, an undergraduate student, with the support of Political Science Department faculty member Richard Avramenko and a small group of interested students. The Society has since held regular meetings, organized a governance structure, elected officers, partnered with the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy to host to the annual Disinvited Dinner, sent students off to conferences, and built a community around thoughtful engagement with important topics.

Why “Tom Sawyer”?

Thanks for asking! Actually, no particular reason. We could have been the Lincoln Forum or the Washington Society or something stuffy like that, but at one of our first meetings somebody suggested the “Tom Sawyer Society”, and it stuck. It injects a bit of levity and joviality into things and after all, college is supposed to fun, right?