Conservatives face enough issues on college campuses without creating conflicts.
Late last week, conservative writer Kassy Dillon, of Campus Reform, reported that an employee at a Fordham University coffee shop asked students to leave because they were conservatives. The facts reveal a slightly different situation.Here’s what happened. Several members of Fordham University College Republicans went to Rodrigue’s Coffee House on campus. One or more of the students purchased a cup of coffee, and the group sat down in the shop. Aaron Spring, one of the students involved, said to Fox News that they went to the coffee shop to have a political conversation with one another. Some time later, an employee of the coffee shop was filmed asking the students to leave, saying their Make America Great Again hats were against the policy of the coffee shop and they had five minutes to get out. The College Republicans left some time later.
This was no random latte run, however. The reason the College Republicans chose this particular coffee shop was to test the tolerance of the store’s “safe space” policy. Rodrigue’s Coffee Shop is a student-run club that has an extensive conduct policy, which is outlined on their Facebook page and on laminated cards through the shop. An excerpt is produced below:
RODRIGUE’S STRIVES TO BE A SAFER SPACE ON FORDHAM’S CAMPUS. We welcome diversity and we encourage all those participating in the Rodrigue’s community to express themselves creatively and respectfully. As such, we urge everyone in the space to be aware of their own identity, and considerate of the personhood of their peers. For these reasons, consider the following: Do not make assumptions about someone’s gender, sexuality, race, class, or experiences. Be aware of the ways in which your words and actions impact others. Be aware of the boundaries of others’ space, physical or otherwise, and respect their consent. No racism — No sexism — No homophobia. Please understand that the above list is by no means exhaustive; these are only basic guidelines to help foster a safer space and a more inclusive community in Rodrigue’s. Ideas and actions that intend to violate any of the above are not welcome.
The policy is general, but conversations with students on campus suggest that it is known for having a very progressive clientele.
Fordham, for its part, released a statement distancing itself from the policy of the shop:
There is no University safe space policy, nor one that excludes any members of the Fordham community from any public spaces on the basis of their political views, Fordham is a community that values diverse opinions, and in which students should disagree with one another in a civil fashion. The University is still investigating the incident, and students who may have violated University code of conduct will be met with the appropriate student conduct process.
The validity of safe spaces aside, the story is clear: A group of conservatives wanted to prove they could rile up their fellow students by wearing MAGA hats at a progressive campus hotspot. They proved their hypothesis but won over no new conservatives.
Conservatism and College Republicans need to be about more than pissing off classmates. Showcasing how liberals can be upset by Trumpism does nothing but entrench the status quo. As conservatism is dwarfed on college campuses, students can be either a nagging spur or proponents of a tempting ideology. Invading spaces that are reserved for particular students only exacerbates issues.
Symbols matter. Conservatism needs to have a shelf life longer than President Trump. The president’s statements, combined with the media united behind the idea that Make America Great Again caps represent a host of negative connotations, make confronting liberals with them problematic and useless. Students know what these symbols mean to others, even if they disagree with them. Wearing MAGA hats only serves the purpose of angering some progressives and alienating others. If conservatism is to survive beyond the Trump presidency, it needs to have an appealing message.
Symbols matter. Conservatism needs to have a shelf life longer than President Trump.
Some conservatives have been drawn to tactics unfit for conservatism. While we may reject the premise of safe spaces, there is some reason for their existence. It’s partly a fault of conservatives for not adequately speaking to the needs of people of color or seeking common ground with those with whom we disagree. But rather than invading a safe space to provoke conflict, conservatives need to enable positive discourse with peers and work to counteract the notion that ours is an ideology persecuting others.
Tactics like this elicit one of two things, but rarely both. In our example, the viral video could make others aware of safe spaces and potential thought discrimination. Those sympathetic to the employee could question the validity of such a safe-space policy. In this case, however, neither is achieved. Most conservatives already know that safe spaces exist on college campuses. Some liberals have visceral reactions to MAGA hats. Nothing new here. No one was made better off. No one changed their minds.
Winning converts comes by retaking the high ground, not by working fellow classmates into a lather in coffee shops. Especially in an environment where conservatives are wildly outgunned in media and on college campuses, we need credibility to be at an all-time high in our engagements with those we disagree.
Intentionally creating situations to anger other students is inappropriate and unnecessary. Consider this: Which wins more converts to Christianity: the guy in Times Square yelling “You’re all going to hell if you don’t convert to Jesus!” or less demonstrative Christians exhibiting love and compassion to neighbors? Remember Mike Pence’s line: “I’m a conservative, but I’m not angry about it.”
The conservatism that we should be pushing is one that draws people in with better arguments. Conservatism can be an ideology that stirs up animosity with gimmicks, or one that wins converts with ideas.
— Tyler Grant is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. (Twitter: @The_Tyler_Grant)