By Kate Westa, University of Michigan Young Americans for Freedom
Ideas are dying on college campuses.
That might be surprising since universities claim to be home to the free and open exchange of ideas, but viewpoint diversity has become hard to find. The state of our divided country and the struggle to engage in civil discourse is perhaps illuminated best on campuses.
Last month, the University of Michigan Young Americans for Freedom chapter brought conservative commentator Steven Crowder to speak to a sold-out venue. Crowder’s comedic, late-night style fills a niche in conservative entertainment, with his show garnering hundreds of millions of views on YouTube and CRTV.
One press photographer, however, was not pleased with the content of Crowder’s show, nor those in attendance. In an article published by the Michigan Daily, Danyel Tharakan’s article is a perfect example of how tolerance and open discourse has evaporated from campus settings as radical leftism has taken hold. Tharakan’s piece is a sensationalized retelling of Crowder’s appearance and an intentional mischaracterization of conservatives.
Describing it as “one of the most terrifying events of [his] life,” Tharakan paints a picture of his 20-minute experience spent photographing a packed audience excited to hear from a conservative on their own campus. In a nauseatingly hyperbolic line, Tharakan compares walking into the event venue to “walking from the dungeons into the Coliseum as a gladiator.”
His retelling of the event further confirms that any objectivity in his coverage was long out the window. Tharakan calls the conservative crowd “racists” shrouded in “white rage” whipped up by Crowder’s appearance. Tharakan fails to appreciate the need for intellectual diversity on the University of Michigan’s campus and instead vilifies conservatives and their beliefs. He classifies Crowder’s words as “blatant homophobia,” “transphobia,” “misogyny,” “racism,” and “white supremacy” without providing any proof that such sentiments were communicated.
This type of article is, for conservatives at the University of Michigan, nothing new. Like many before him, Tharakan demonstrates the Left’s lack of tolerance when faced with ideas different from their own. While riddled with inaccuracies, ad hominem attacks, and an overall intolerance for those with opposing views, this ridiculous article speaks to the sad state of real discussion and debate in higher education today.
Universities are meant to be the place where a marketplace of ideas is on display, allowing good ideas to rise to the top and the bad ideas to be critiqued and refined. At the University of Michigan, only 15% of students self-identify as conservative. While this statistic paints the picture of an uphill battle, conservative ideas do win over young people—but only if they’re given the chance to hear and consider our principles.
Ironically enough, Tharakan laments that Crowder was protected from “facing any pushback against his opinions,” a flat-out falsehood that, had Tharakan stayed more than 20 minutes, he would have seen debunked. The trademark of all Young America’s Foundation campus lectures is the open Q&A session during which dissenters are encouraged to challenge ideas and engage in debate, and Crowder was no exception.
It is intellectually lazy to decry a culture of discrimination and inequality while ignoring the de facto silencing of conservative ideas on campus. Speech, and the ideas propagated by it, has always championed diversity. The problem, however, is the lack of focus on the importance of intellectual diversity.
Tharakan concludes his article with this: “A tolerant society must be intolerant of intolerance.” I disagree. We must be tolerant of competing views so that we can have the opportunity to engage with other viewpoints, increasing critical thinking skills and civility. Conservatives want this not because we’re the minority on campus, but because it is a foundational principle of higher education. Robust political dialogue is essential in a free and inclusive society, and YAF won’t stop working towards that anytime soon.