In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, former contributor to Bucknell’s conservative student newspaper and current liberal-leaning professor Aaron Hanlon claimed that conservative students are wrong to consider themselves “victims” on college campuses. But are they?
As someone who’s written on campus politics as a conservative student for over a year now, I agree with Professor Hanlon’s sentiment. That’s why I’ve made a habit of reminding my peers that conservative students are not victims. In November, on a panel entitled “The New Generation Takes on the Left” at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in West Palm Beach, Florida, I addressed this directly.
“The thing that I always say, is that we are not necessarily victims. I think this is good. I’ve been exposed to ideas that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have been exposed to and I always think – if you are going to go after the left, if you are going to go after anyone you disagree with, it’s better to understand their position better than they understand it themselves. For me, it’s been incredible to read Marx, to read these things, and to engage with them,” I said.
I explicitly made it clear that our desire to expand the conversation by introducing a more diverse array of perspectives is a kind of customer feedback rather than a cry of victimhood: “Instead of being victims, this is a customer feedback thing. Our educations are expensive, whether it is the students themselves or their families who are sacrificing. It’s time for us to tell the donors that we aren’t getting a complete education.”
At the same time, we can’t ignore the campus left’s alarming descent into violence. At Berkeley, protesters set fires, looted stores, and assaulted suspected (suspected!) Trump supporters on campus because they happened to be near the venue where MILO was speaking. Disagreement isn’t suppression, but punching people in the face for supporting a political candidate certainly is.
Hanlon makes a few false assumptions about conservative students. Most of us don’t believe that we are on the receiving end of “ideological oppression,” as he suggests. Most of us engage with the texts of the great conservative and libertarian minds such as F.A. Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell, making us some of the most well-rounded thinkers on campuses thanks to our university’s progressive curriculums.
Considering that these thinkers and their works are often absent from university curriculum, why isn’t Hanlon asking progressive students to read them?
Professor Hanlon’s main point seems to be that conservative students often mistake others disagreeing with them as attempts to suppress their ideas. “The point is: You have a voice and ideas that people need to hear, but don’t compare disagreement with your ideas to suppression,” he argues.
I’m hard pressed to find even a single widely-publicized example of a conservative student misinterpreting a civil disagreement as a suppression of his political beliefs. If it happens, it is hardly commonplace.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson that said, “let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” It’s curious that Hanlon accuses conservative students of committing this, Emerson’s “vulgar mistake,” because it is more so an accurate reflection of the way in which leftists react to their ideas being challenged, especially in academic environments.
The popular theme, perhaps established by Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour, that disagreement is acceptable unless that disagreement is “rooted in” someone’s “oppression” has become very popular on the campus. Equity feminist and scholar Christina Hoff Sommers is often considered a threat to student safety when she visits campuses because her civil disagreement with what has become mainstream feminist doctrine “invalidates the experiences” of students.
"We can disagree & still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression & denial of my humanity and right to exist."
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) November 11, 2016
Students at a university in California were turned away when they recently tried to start a chapter of a conservative non-profit group on the basis that the group’s mainstream conservative values go “against humanity.”
Campus conservatives are no longer forced to submit to just the suppression of their ideas on campus, as a series of opinion-editorials that appeared in the independent student newspaper of UC Berkeley, The Daily Californian, entitled “Violence as Self-Defense,” justified the use of physical violence against those waiting to attend an event featuring a conservative guest speaker. It’s almost as to say, “let me academically walk you through why your ideas and values are justification enough for me to punch you.”
At Bucknell, I’ve been asked to take seriously the notion that acts of non-speech retaliation are justified against me and my peers in response to our civil disagreement with Bucknell’s progressive orthodoxy.
As a former Bucknellian and educator, Hanlon’s focus should be on an email recently sent out by Bucknell professor Marcellus Andrews, in which he instructs students to “impose a steep and lasting price” on organizers of a speaking event that occurred in February 2016. Despite the controversial nature of the speaker, Hanlon should be concerned that a professor at his alma mater is instructing students to commit non-speech acts of retribution against other students for their attempt to expand the intellectual space at their university.
That the Bucknell administration refused to even label this conduct “inappropriate” should be a concern for educators everywhere, as it runs against the foundation of the university as an open and challenging intellectual space, where even Milo Yiannopoulos’s style of provocation and humor should be welcomed.
Milquetoast speakers, like Dinesh D’Souza and James Rosen, who have both spoken at Bucknell, failed to generate the dialogue necessary for my conservative and libertarian peers to feel that we have a seat at the intellectual table on campus. Through this, it has become clear that Milo Yiannopoulos’ popularity is a reflection of the institutional failure to provide students with the comprehensive and intellectually diverse education that they are promised at the time of enrollment.
Professor Andrews’ rhetoric, and others like his, only further cultivate academic environments in which conservative students feel that they must sit quietly and regurgitate their professor’s ideas in order to get through their classes. To fight back against conduct that shrinks the intellectual space like that of Andrews’ and of the UC Berkeley rioters is not only reasonable but necessary if we are to again make the university a place that encourages the exploration of all ideas, mainstream, radical, and even those that are provocatively expressed.
This is what we fight for – the expansion of the intellectual space at the university so that all students receive the education that they deserve.
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about social justice and libertarian issues for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org