By Samantha Schutte, Former YAF Intern and Foundation Activist at UCLA
Administrators and student leaders love to throw around buzzwords like ‘diversity’, ‘unity’, and ‘inclusivity’. Many college campuses have entire advisory committees, or even chancellors, whose sole purpose is to promote a positive “campus climate.” The stated goal is to maintain civility and mutual respect. But these committees have the unrealistic notion that every group on a campus can get along and never fight.
I have news for them: The Students for Justice in Palestine and pro-Israel students aren’t going to hold hands and skip through the quad together anytime soon. Conservatives and liberals are going to debate. Students are going to debate ideas. That’s the nature of a free society.
Reduced funding if you hurt someone’s feelings?
At UCLA, it has been proposed that questions be added to funding applications to determine if the petitioning group has reached out to groups who may be affected by their event. Essentially, if you think someone or some group might be offended by a speaker you host or another aspect of your event, they want to see that you have contacted them ahead of time to give them fair warning and “discuss your goals for the event.” Student government claims that the answers to these questions would not affect funding allocations, but because the goals of an event are one of the main funding criteria, this is clearly impossible to prevent.
In my experience, groups have requested that they be notified ahead of time if an event will “discuss their community” (read “race”). No one is telling groups to contact campus conservatives if their events will discuss America.
It is ridiculous to ask student groups to clear their events with the other side. Every group should be able to openly and aggressively champion their beliefs. Words or actions can always be perceived as offensive by someone and there is no way to avoid this, so many colleges are exploring the use of restorative justice to resolve campus climate issues.
Some areas of campus are freer than others
Universities claim to protect the First Amendment rights of students, but subject them to speech codes and confine them to “free speech zones.” UCLA has Meyerhoff Park, Berkley has a Free Speech Café, etc. Administrations claim that these areas are an affirmation of the First Amendment, but the fact that these areas exist at all means that free speech on college campuses is being restricted. Even in these areas, school officials control what can and cannot be said and done there—all in the interest of making a comfortable campus climate.
At UCLA, occupiers were allowed to remain on grassy areas on campus for days without sprinklers going off on them, while I had to fight for weeks to be allowed to set up a 9/11: Never Forget Project flag memorial on that same space and was asked to pay a facilities fee to turn off the water for that day (again, after extensive complaints, this request was dropped). Schools are welcoming free speech in the form of protest, but not patriotism? Isn’t this America?
Tolerance? How about tolerating the First Amendment?
If you are a conservative group on a normal college campus, any event you plan will be considered controversial and you will have to jump through hoops to make it happen. Standing up for conservative ideas causes a stir and ticks a lot of people off, so they’ll try anything and everything to silence you. Almost anything you say—even if it’s memorializing the victims of 9/11—will be construed as offensive or intolerant or racist or hostile to someone on campus.
The inclusivity and equal opportunities you hear about don’t seem to apply to conservatives. If a conservative speaks out about radical Islam, affirmative action, or other controversial issues, these groups call it racism or hate speech. Instead of engaging in a productive discussion, and some liberals even go so far as to make death threats to conservative speakers and students.
Colleges and liberal groups need to learn to tolerate the First Amendment. Every group, conservative and liberal alike, should be able to say what they want to say, when they want to say it, and how they want to say it—as long as it doesn’t infringe on the Constitutional rights of others. That’s America.
Samantha Schutte is a former Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar at Young America’s Foundation and a conservative activist at UCLA.