Something we hear a lot from conservative pundits is that college campuses are “too liberal”, and that they tend to repress conservative thought. Most of us at Wesleyan would probably agree, as the odds of finding right-leaning students here are about as slim as finding a job with an anthropology degree. Many see this as a positive element of this school: a replica handbags safe place where leftists can roam, hunt, mate, (and learn) in a friendly, elephant-free savannah. I see it as a form of discrimination.
Now, I’m not saying Republicans are generally discriminated against. That would be indefensible as the party boasts a largely white, and therefore privileged, base. But I am saying that Republicans often encounter a hostile environment on American college campuses. They are—I hate to admit it—a minority in this context. And being part of this political minority can result in different examples of discrimination, both negative and positive.
It’s a rather recent form of discrimination. It isn’t loaded with a violent and injustice-filled past—quite the opposite in fact! Therefore many may not accept the claim that Republican students face discrimination. And yet, there are countless examples of such discrimination. If some Republican-aligned groups and individuals are recognized for their bigotry, intolerance, and close-mindedness, leftists need to realize that those traits can also be applied to Democratic-leaning groups and individuals. After all, it was a Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Republican House whip Steve Scalise.
When Milo Yiannopoulos had to cancel his speech at UC Berkeley last year, many campuses celebrated this as a victory for the left. The peaceful protests were disrupted by approximately 150 masked people, and the resulting riot caused an estimated $100,000 in damage. That money isn’t going towards financial aid or research. Yes, Yiannopoulos holds degrading views of women and minorities, and I can understand not wanting to listen to him. But forcing him away hurts the leftist cause overall.
I’m not condoning hate speech, I’m just asking that we fight it peacefully. There’s no need to be violent when you have the obvious moral advantage. The side that has to back their argument with physical violence is the moral inferior, no matter which ideology they defend. In the case of the Berkeley riots, the media depicts the actions of the few as the beliefs of the entire group, and a debate that can easily be dismissed with words is lost due to violence.
It’s understandable to be angry at hate speech. It makes sense to want to fight it. But that anger needs to be funneled and expressed through more peaceful, useful means. Strength and violence can be vital to a movement that is oppressed. From the American Revolution to the Black Panthers, and many in between, violence has been forgiven as being the only way of being heard. But today, in a society where a majority rejects Yiannopoulos’ hate speech, using violence to shut him out paints his movement as oppressed by the left.
Silencing someone because you disagree with them is an authoritarian tactic and should definitely not be a source of pride. It discredits the left as a party of “blind certainty,” something David Foster Wallace qualifies as being “a close-mindedness that results in an imprisonment so total the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.” They’re celebrating their close-mindedness, and this allows Yiannopoulos’s supporters to reduce the entire left to an intolerant, violent group. It doesn’t allow for a pertinent debate, and it simply entrenches everybody in whatever they believe in. Change can’t happen this way. We want to change the opposition’s mind, not bash their ideas with a club.
Of course, at such an event, no one was going to change Yiannopoulos’s mind. But they could’ve made him out to be the loser in the story by showing through conversation that his points were ridiculously, objectively, and factually wrong. Rather, they turned him into the heroic victim, a martyr who barely survived his encounter with a wild horde of brainwashed college students. You never convince the person you’re debating with, you convince the audience.
What we get instead are multiple reports of disrespectful treatment of people based on differing ideologies, both by students and faculty.
“Students are here to learn; they aren’t here to debate,” said a UC Santa Barbara student, describing the curriculum as a one-sided, biased and self-endorsed truth.
The left is often reluctant to admit that this problem exists on college campuses, as a Huffington Post piece shows. In it, writer Kelly Wilz tries to counter the right’s point, saying a professor’s political ideology won’t affect the way they teach “math or science or English,” strategically leaving out polarizing subjects like economics or political science.
But the left can also oppose efforts towards more politically inclusive schools. Wesleyan president Michael Roth defended such an initiative through the development of a $3 million fund “for exposing students at Wesleyan to ideas outside the liberal consensus.” This was definitely a controversial move, with many students arguing that this money wasn’t going to serve students directly, as more financial aid would do.
Ultimately, I think it’s a valid investment. To go back to David Foster Wallace, he posits that liberal arts schools should be institutions that teach us how to think, rather than what to think. Schools like Wesleyan should not only be a cultural crossroads by hosting students from a broad range of ethnic, social and economic backgrounds; it should also strive to be a student body based on critical thinking, where students can arrive at a variety of views through nuanced discussion rather than dogmatic arguments.
Elia Kruger is a member of the Class of 2021 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.