It is a gross understatement to say that St. Olaf’s students are currently politically divided. Angela Davis, political activist and radical leftist intellectual (not a liberal, by the way), spoke at the college in March, and some right-leaning students decried the lack of conservative speakers on campus, arguing that we must give voice to a wide range of political ideologies. Other students argued that to bring conservative speakers to campus is to make marginalized students feel unsafe and to perpetuate oppression on a larger scale by giving these folks a platform.
Later in the semester, St. Olaf students received an email from President David Anderson ’74, in which he said, “We welcome diversity in all of its forms, including political ideology, and we strive to create an environment that promotes the free and respectful exchange of ideas.”
It would be wrong to say that we should never bring conservative speakers to campus, or that we should quiet the voices of students with different political ideologies than ourselves. However, we should certainly seek to eradicate hate speech and prejudice from any political dialogue on campus and in the broader world.
What we are seeing in much of the political discourse on a national level has very little to do with political conservatism at all. Indeed, much of it is simply fear-mongering and bigotry, which is not connected with a political philosophy, and which certainly should not be tolerated in any form.
It is not a conservative principle to oppress your neighbor. It is not a conservative principle to discriminate based on race, sexuality, gender, birthplace or any other aspect of identity.
I will welcome conservative speakers and students who will talk about the merits of smaller government or who will make interesting arguments for private property as a means for individual freedom – these examples being politically conservative ideas I personally disagree with, but that do not actively seek to oppress groups of people or to explain away oppression with unhelpful data or misleading facts. It is not in the ideology of conservatism to try and erase and exclude the experiences of the marginalized, yet our campus discussion repeatedly seems to conflate this right-wing bigotry with conservatism.
Thus, what we have is not really an issue of “diversity of political thought,” nor a problem of leftist and liberal students not accepting conservative ideology. It is an acknowledgement that so much of current national politics, particularly in relation to the present presidential administration, has very little to do with any sort of political ideology. No worthwhile political philosopher in history has ever said that we must oppress others in order to serve ourselves – and yet, this seems to be how most of us across the political spectrum are understanding the political right.
True political dialogue on our campus requires the nuance to separate out what is “diverse” political thought and what is straight up racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and the like. Folks from the political left, myself included, risk essentialization and inaccuracy when we label problematic ideas as “conservative,” making bigotry an issue of differing political belief rather than what it is – oppression grounded in social and economic power structures.
Katie Jeddeloh ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Centennial, Colo. She majors in English.