Before I left for college orientation, I remember my dad warning me: “Don’t let them turn you into one of those blue-haired social-justice warriors.” His worry was not unfounded; across the country, Republicans are agonizing that college campuses have become hotbeds of liberal indoctrination. But my story should give them hope.
I came to campus without fully formed positions on most political issues, and attending college in the liberal enclave of western Massachusetts hasn’t brainwashed me — it’s made me more conservative than I ever could have imagined.
That isn’t to say there’s no cause for concern. Liberal professors do outnumber their conservative counterparts at least five-to-one on college campuses, and it certainly shows.
One lecturer gave my class a “trigger warning,” to caution us that she planned to use the apparently controversial word “black” when discussing African-American literature. Another professor promised that his class would be a “safe space” for students traumatized by the election of Donald Trump. Liberal educators used to respect open debate and provocative ideas, but many left-wing professors now think that keeping students in our comfort zones is more important than treating us like adults.
I became even more concerned when classroom conversations turned . . . Communist. One professor cherry-picked readings from Karl Marx and made him seem like a virtuous defender of the working class rather than the founder of an ideology with a bloody history. Another professor called Fidel Castro an “icon” and spoke in glowing terms about Cuba’s state-run economy.
If anything, the campus Left makes a compelling case for conservatism to many of the students who cross its path.
Yet I wasn’t convinced by the case for collectivism on campus, and neither were many of my classmates. One YouGov survey suggests that only 7 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a Communist society, and more millennials now think of Communism as a present-day problem than did in 2016. Clearly, the “brainwashing” on campus hasn’t been so successful.
That’s because there’s a disconnect between what’s being taught and what’s being absorbed. Colleges can’t truly indoctrinate a generation that grew up with the Internet, which has conditioned us not to take what we’re told at face value. When I did my own research into my professor’s arguments, I found out that unrestricted trade and the spread of capitalism have done more to reduce global poverty than almost anything else. Students from the Socialist Club were too busy protesting for “free abortion on demand” and resisting Donald Trump to notice that Bernie Sanders might not have all the answers.
I quickly learned that these activists on campus might be “progressive,” but they’re not always tolerant. When I dared to be both openly gay and vocally conservative, I got harassed and bullied online by left-wing students to the point where I had to delete every dating app from my phone. My private dating profiles were reposted in a public Facebook group so that students could mock me with their friends. For all their talk about tolerance, a campus culture concerned with “social justice” really just wanted to push the liberal agenda.
My school is a “gun-free zone,” and so are thousands of others across the country. Firearms are banned from campus, and pro-gun politics are discouraged too. When Antonia Okafor came to a college near me, administrators even shut down the campus-carry activist’s speech — after deeming the Second Amendment “very controversial.”
But despite the anti-gun atmosphere on campus, many young people like me still strongly support the Second Amendment. According to a 2015 survey from Pew, 18- to 29-year-olds are actually less likely than older Americans to support a ban on assault weapons, and young people are among the most supportive of concealed-carry laws. Try as they might, would-be liberal indoctrinaters haven’t convinced college students to turn our backs on the Second Amendment.
On some campuses, a small but vocal minority of left-leaning students has become extremely hostile to the First Amendment as well. That’s why we’ve seen viral videos in which controversial speakers are shouted down on campus. But many young people actually find this hostility disturbing. Surrounded by censorship and suffocating inside “free-speech zones,” they are starting to see why the First Amendment is so sacred. That was my experience: After I started speaking out in the school newspaper, I got hate mail, and angry left-wing students even joked about my death online. The illiberal atmosphere on campus showed me and many other students just how important free speech really is.
My classmates routinely come up to me and whisper, “I agreed with you in class, I loved your article, I saw what you posted — just don’t tell anyone.” According to Gallup, 61 percent of college students think that their campus culture stifles free expression, and seven of ten would prefer a campus climate where all speech is allowed. Many students on campus still think for themselves, even if they’re afraid to speak out.
So we don’t have to worry about young people getting “indoctrinated” by left-wing professors or a radical college culture. If anything, the campus Left makes a compelling case for conservatism to many of the students who cross its path.
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