by Katrina Willis, HWS Young Americans for Freedom
If an explosive Ben Shapiro lecture at UC-Berkeley is like figure skating at the Winter Olympics, activism at Hobart and William Smith Colleges as a member of Young Americans for Freedom is like cross-country skiing. The stifling bias we face is not a flashy must-see event attracting critics and supporters alike.
Our situation is a long-enduring trek over rough terrain with unglamorous and subtle, but incessant, affronts.
In early March, HWS YAF invited Burgess Owens, a Super Bowl Champion, author, Fox News contributor, and conservative thinker, to speak on our campus about individual responsibility. Owens delivered, emphasizing the importance of a positive, loving attitude and the inherent specialness of every individual.
However, one student said during the question and answer session, “I just wanted to say on behalf of all the white people here in the room, thank you for justifying your racism because, you know, it’s much harder to do from a white face.”
Before returning to her seat, she insisted she thought Owen’s real name was not “Burgess,” but rather “Tom,” openly using a racial pejorative.
Campus Safety and Student Activities did nothing.
Throughout the event, audience members heckled Owens. One student even tried to forcefully take the microphone from the event moderator, a member of our chapter, and later threw a table outside the speaking venue, flipping it over and yelling profanities at other students.
Campus Safety and Student Activities again, took no decisive action.
Their response, or lack thereof, was expected. They had previously stated many times that they would not remove audience members who shout at YAF’s speakers.
Our chapter originally challenged their stance, pointing out that HWS Community Standards state, “Implicit in the pursuit of this [idea] exchange, is the privilege to protest in a peaceful and non-disruptive manner without unreasonable obstruction or hindrance.”
The administration responded that shouting at a speaker does not qualify as disruptive behavior. However, their heckler’s-veto-affirming policy only applies to people who verbally assault YAF members and guests.
At our Owens event, one student became frustrated by the disruption and turned to the protesters, saying, “If you can dream it, you can do it” in response to their outbursts about white assimilation and institutional racism.
Campus Safety director Martin Corbett immediately rushed to ask this particular student to stop shouting.
Following the event, in last attempt to garner some support, we met with the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Gregory Vincent.
President Gregory Vincent said to us that he considers himself a “free speech purist” and agreed that our events should not be derailed by the crowd.
However, he also suggested that our speakers were mere provocateurs and Young America’s Foundation is a manipulative institution.
“My concern is that some of these speakers are not here to spread ideas, but to create controversy…My concern of a national organization driving a local agenda is just that…I just am concerned about the campus being used as a pawn.”
When asked about the derogatory racial language used against Owens, President Vincent responded, “Let me just be blunt. There are outliers who are very frustrated” but was sure to mention that, “You can share with anyone you have my support.”
Perhaps the most maddening aspect of dealing with leftist bias at a college outside the public eye is its deceptive nature.
Blatant disrespect for me and my YAF members as students and thinkers usually comes sandwiched between contradictory and empty offers of support. Faculty members send campus wide emails connecting our chapter to a white supremacy agenda, but without ever addressing us by name.
Students post “open letters” around campus writing that HWS YAF members are “as empty-minded as they are closed minded,” and that we should call ourselves “Young Americans for White Supremacy.”
But because members were not named individually in the letters, President Vincent’s response was, “I don’t think that’s inappropriate.”
Sometimes, in a horribly ironic sense, conservative students get lucky. Their administrative opposition stakes its claim proudly and acts boldly in its discrimination. It is easy to expose wrong when it identifies itself.
But sometimes the important work of defending American principles does not come with a spot in national news or a bald-faced ideological confrontation. Instead, sometimes the process is a long one, free of glamour, full of burden, but an opportunity for learning and the chance to do what is right.