Conservative Students Can Be Activists, Too

by Mytheos Holt

The Student Free Press Association has an interesting story about my alma mater, Wesleyan University, where apparently the conservative student groups have started trying to get their own corner in the campus’ colorful activism scene. It . . . isn’t going so well:

The Cardinal Conservatives at Wesleyan University in Connecticut put on a bake sale last week, which wouldn’t be noteworthy but for one thing: The bake sale was an affirmative action bake sale, in which prices are set according to acceptance rates for different racial groups.

The conservative student group sold baked items at different set prices ($2.00 for white students, $1.50 for Asians, $1.00 for Latinos, $0.75 for African Americans, and free for Native Americans) to highlight what they call the inherently racist practices of affirmative action programs, and passed out fliers for an event the following evening to discuss affirmative action. . . .

Already, the bake sale has launched multiple events, an editorial and an op-ed condemning the event in the student newspaper the Argus, personal email from teaching faculty to a student involved with the bake sale, and a summons for the Cardinal Conservatives to appear before a student government body to explain the bake sale. Student groups hung banners in the student center this week in a coordinated reaction to the bake sale event.

So what, you say. Leftist faculty and students don’t like it when conservatives turn one of their sacred cows (racism) against them, and like it even less when it’s done through an activist event. Ho hum, let’s all go home. Well, the e-mails from Prof. Claire B. Potter (whose personal blog is appropriately titled “Tenured Radical”) to one of the organizers of the event are both so logically bankrupt and so obviously an attempt at intimidation that I have to point them out. First, the initial and comparatively less stupid:

Dear [Name Redacted],

The announcement about the affirmative action Bake sale was forwarded to me by a colleague. I cannot tell you how hurtful this event was to many of your fellow students, whose admission to this university, and presence in our classes, is an honor to them and a privilege to our community. At Wesleyan, faculty are charged with valuing *all* of our stiudents, from the moment of admission to the day they depart, BA in hand. Such events as the one your organization mounted are mere stunts that do not promote dialogue. Rather , they are intended to promote solidarity among young conservatives at different campuses. Actual speech promotes dialogue, not mocking others and implying that some students are less accomplished and less deserving than other students; or that some faculty must not belong at Wesleyan because they might have been appointed with attention to faculty diversity.

Without speaking the word race, you and your group are in fact stigmatizing students of color and their allies without mustering any facts that these fellow students *are* less “qualified” to attend a competitive university than you and your political allies are. While perhaps you do not intend to harm people, by producing a self-aggranding event that also promotes a false idea about our admissions policy (which promotes the admission of many different kinds of students for many different reasons, including the admission of large numbers of men who do not meet the admissions standards set by women and the children of celebrities who raise our national profile) you do a great deal of harm. As an addendum, studies show (see Bowen et. al.) that the largest number of students to be advantaged in the admissions process are actually the children of alumni/ae, or so-called “legacies.” If you really want to talk about admissions policy, you should read about it, talk about it, and research the policies of your institution and how they are acted on, not organize public stunts that embarrass fellow students without making yourself available for an intelligent conversation about the facts.

I am very disappointed that the Campus Republicans cannot bring themselves to promote a real dialogue, and an elevated one at that. There will be a student run event Friday at 5 in Usdan to discuss this matter, and I hope you will make yourself available for the dialogue you say you want.

And after the student’s reply, this gem (emphasis added):

Thank you for this response, although it evades the issue of why such an event would be necessary if the organization did *not* believe that there were students of color admitted to Wesleyan who were unqualified to attend. Nor does it respond in any way to the substantial harm that has been caused to a great many students of color and their allies.

There are many of us that think this event, in and of itself, was racist because of that harm, and that the failure to consider that as an outcome of a certain kind of political speech is not what we expect of Wesleyan students, regardless of their political beliefs.

So let me get this straight. If a form of political speech might possibly offend minority students and their “allies” (whatever that means), that form of political speech is de facto racist, regardless of whether it relies on true premises, or makes a cogent point. This kind of reason-averse tribalism might be understandable from some junior, tenure-deprived pup looking to score points in her ethnic-studies department, but for a full, tenured professor in the history department to send this to a student (who I understand is an underclassman, to boot) is, well, just a little disturbingly overzealous.

Update: Someone who claims to be an actual worker in the admissions office at Wesleyan (going by “acknight”) writes the following extremely cynical and disturbing post about affirmative action on a Wesleyan-oriented blog:

As someone who who works in the admissions office, I can’t tell you how many white, upperclass students from New England come into the office and say that they want to go to a school that is diverse. They say they are sick of being in places where everyone looks and thinks in the same way. Frankly, Wesleyan’s commitment to diversity, from a business standpoint is a response to consumer demand. Without certain efforts or initiatives to seek out and and select competitive students of color, low-income, and sexually non-conforming individuals, Wesleyan would continue to replicate power dynamics of the larger society ie. middle/upper-middle class, heterosexual, white men and a few white women, but ironically, those same people are asking/ looking for something else. Additionally, race, like legacy and athletic ability, and gender is but one factor of the many that decided admissions. Wesleyan doesn’t have the luxury of being colorblind because that isn’t the reality of the world we live in. Resources and access fall along decidedly colored lines.

I’m hesitant to believe anonymous comments, but if this is true, it’s even worse than Potter’s e-mail, seeing as it seems to admit that the admissions department isn’t interested in merit at all — they just want the most easily marketable class to fashionable East Coast elites. If I were a minority student reading this, I’d be deeply offended that I was being used as a tool to attract the rich white kids that Wesleyan really cares about. I hope the admissions department will condemn this post.


Update II: A quick search of the Wesleyan directory confirms that the person with the e-mail address “[email protected]” is one Arielle Knight, a senior with ties to the crowd that opposed the bake sale (e-mails sent between members of the Cardinal Conservatives and Knight, and sent to NRO, confirm this). Knight’s credentials in the admissions department are in good order. She’s listed on the admissions website as a student worker. As to her role, here it is in her own words, from that website:

For the past two years I have helped to plan the Student of Color admitted student program. I am also a member of the black student’s association.