I’m severely disappointed in the Political Awareness Committee’s (PAC) decision to invite Angela Davis as the spring speaker. PAC’s choice of guest implies that there is simply no room for diverse ideas on our campus, as there has not been a non-liberal principal speaker on campus since Olympia Snowe urged political moderatism in 2015.
Not that this is surprising: study after study has demonstrated that college campuses lean liberal. According to one George Mason University study, American liberal professors outnumber conservative professors 12 to one, with most conservative professors attracted to business and economics departments. In a humanities-heavy institution like St. Olaf, that number only grows. PAC’s decision to invite Angela Davis over a different speaker whose beliefs might challenge those of the majority of St. Olaf’s student body reinforces the dominant liberal political narrative and fails to acknowledge any other political creeds, let alone foster inter-ideology discussion.
Although there may not be a problem with a political hegemon for most St. Olaf students, for those of us in the political minority outside of the left, it’s a serious issue. There’s a certain level of privilege intrinsic to being liberal on the Hill. A Bernie Sanders shirt will be met with approving, if subtle, nods, but wearing a Make America Great Again hat will result in confrontations, yelling and even bullying. Shouldn’t PAC be working to bridge this divide? This is not to say that either political persuasion is better than the other, but don’t people deserve to be a part of the larger political conversation, regardless of their beliefs? The simple fact is that many non-liberal students do not feel safe expressing their beliefs, whether it’s online, in class or during campus political events.
Don’t believe me? Ask one. I’ve heard story after story, relaying the same frustration: at St. Olaf, students value diversity. Just so long as everyone’s beliefs conform to the majority’s.
A visit from Angela Davis will hardly help. Although she is a highly revered civil rights leader and commands our respect, it’s unlikely she will say anything that diverges from the dominant campus narrative. If PAC were to hold true to its mission and facilitate political dialogue on campus, there would be much greater ideological diversity among the speakers it invites. The American political sphere has Democrats, Republicans, communists, libertarians, Nazis, evangelicals, Greens and even monarchists. Why should PAC’s speakers not reflect this ideological diversity? The visits from Olympia Snowe and Newt Gingrich sparked campus-wide discussion. Why would we shy away from that?
Until then, for myself, I’ll keep acting as president of St. Olaf’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty and providing a libertarian perspective to campus politics. People of any political persuasion are welcome to join our meetings Wednesday evenings from 6 to 7 pm in Buntrock 143 and give their two cents in our discussions. Sadly, it seems that that’s more than I can say for most of campus.
Griffin Edwards ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Encinitas, Calif. He majors in Russian and has created an individual major.