On the first day back from spring break, a student sent out an email to my entire student body expressing concern for the lack of space given to conservative voices on campus. In the students defense, the school I attend is largely politically left leaning; but I was completely lost when the email outright stated that conservatives on campus felt ‘marginalized’. “Conservative voices have been silent for too long,” the email continued, and it closed with a link to join a new conservative club on campus. This email angered a lot of students, which I thought to be interesting because just two weeks prior, the college’s President sent out an email that gave legitimacy to conservative students’ concerns. The email was meant to be a ‘solidarity’ email of sorts, one where all marginalized students’ and their concerns were acknowledged — including conservatives feeling as though they unable to ‘safely’ speak on campus. It stuck out to me immediately that both the student and my president called attention to the apparent lack of ‘space’ given to conservatives.
This call for ‘space’ usually follows an expression of ‘marginalization’, ‘fear’, ‘silencing’, and ‘discrimination’. Putting aside the irony of conservatives demanding something like a safe space on college campuses, I believe the usage of this word is intentional and strategic. When speaking of our oppression, those who exist in the margins of society have popularized these phrases, built conversations that center us for once, and backed these words up with empirical data and lived experiences. It’s beyond safe to say that conservatives on college campuses have not done the same. What they do end up doing, however, is co-opt these phrases to demand an emotional response from moderate and left leaning people. This response looks like allowing conservatives to speak without challenging them, because if we do, we then become the imaginary intolerant oppressors the conservatives speak of.
This is successfully done because conservatives know that moderate and left leaning people truly do not listen to marginalized people. As soon as they hear these buzzwords, they humor marginalized people instead of really understanding the systems we speak of — they sometimes don’t even believe these systems exist. If they truly understood, they would then know that there is no way that the social standing of privileged conservatives and marginalized people could switch. There is no flipping of oppressions and conservatives are not and cannot be marginalized on the basis of their political standing. What is happening, however, is a long term shift in our culture and more specifically, in academia.
Before going back a few decades to examine this, we must first understand that fundamentally Western academia does not operate to seek truth through knowledge. Western academia functions as a gatekeeper to a better life socioeconomically than we would have had without it. Let’s be real here, not allowing minorities into schools was never about access to ‘knowledge’ because knowledge is all around us and is hard to regulate access to it. What occurred instead is the redefinition of ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’, and the only way we could get access is if we were ‘educated’ through Western academia. The institutions of Western academia have forced us to accept pseudo-science and sloppy ‘intellectual’ defenses of bigotry as unchallengeable ‘truths’. In order to be seen as ‘knowledgable’, we are to accept these falsities and therefore, we become worthy of advancing socioeconomically. Academic institutions primary purpose was, and is, to legitimize white supremacy through elitism and ableism, thus it is a system of indoctrination rather than truth, knowledge and liberation.
For example, let us look to the shift in academia since the 60s and 70s. With the entrance of minority students into colleges came our lived experiences, our histories, and our truths. “Our existence is resistance” is not simply a meaningless saying; minority student’s mere existence in academic spaces were subversive to the intentional patriotic white supremacist indoctrination of Western academia. How could one possibly believe the ‘legitimate’ science of Black people being inherently incapable of learning if Black students could hold our own in higher education? Our presence forced a shift in academia as a whole because now the truth could not be denied. Of course, this was not taken well and groups such as Accuracy in Academia were created in the 80s to ensure that a certain perspective remained legitimate and taught as the truth.
In order to combat the legitimacy of marginalized truths, conservative watch group Accuracy in Academia incentivized students to report professors who, for example, taught from books written by Black writers. They reported this as professors’ teaching with ‘liberal bias’, which is strategically brilliant. By framing this conflict as a matter of differing political ideology, rather than simply fact or fiction, it allows conservatives the room to legitimize their fact lacking views as an academic rebuttal to marginalized people speaking on our lived experiences. Now hateful indoctrination as an ‘opinion’ and any attack on that is seen as not giving ‘space’ to ‘political diversity’.
This is echoed in the email from my college’s president, where she writes; “conservative students, faculty, and staff are reluctant to speak up and offer counter-points to prevailing opinions on campus for fear they will be vilified.” This is an example of the very same co-opting of buzzwords, but even more bizarre given that Accuracy in Academia is still a functioning watch group funded by conservative think tanks. The monitoring of ‘liberal bias’ is still occurring, yet we are supposed to be worried for conservative faculty expressing allegedly harmless opinions. I wonder if these ‘harmless’ opinions mirror the ones I hear from conservative faculty on my campus, such as white conservative professors advocating for anyone of any race to use the N word and then proceeding to do so multiple times in class. This faculty member did not face any transparent or known repercussions due to this, mainly because students of color do not feel safe enough to go against their professor, as they are not incentivized by groups like Accuracy in Academia. The fact of the matter is, whatever ‘marginalization’ or ‘silencing’ conservatives on college campuses speak of is not only a figment of their imagination, but something they actively perpetuate towards non conservatives.
The real tragedy is that in this weird song and dance, people who look, live, and love, as I do, get lost in the margins and are forced to give even more space and legitimacy to the people who believe I shouldn’t exist. We are just trying to live and love, but our desire for safe existence is seen as a political perspective. By ignoring history and present day reality, moderate and left leaning people continue to bend and break for the very same people who would never do so for them. Conservatives are acting as they always have, working towards the goals they have always been working towards, but what are moderate and left leaning people doing? Running to give conservatives a space on college campuses and valuing their hateful contributions to discourse.
No thanks, I’m good.
Thank you for taking the time to read, “The Discourse of Humanity” by Idil Hussein. If you enjoyed this article or it has moved you in any way, please consider supporting the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at www.loweryinstitute.org. Let us be the change!
Disclaimer: The above writing, and all other writings on The Lowery Institute website, are not reflections or sentiments of the administration of the Lowery Institute, The Lowery Institute Board of Directors, or Dr. Lowery.