Engaging with the “other side” is easy when it doesn’t degrade, dehumanize and deprive you of your identity.
As highlighted by a recent Wheel news article, some conservative students are hesitant to openly discuss their views on campus. They noted it is especially difficult to engage in debates with organizations and students with differing views. Despite their inability to find spaces and desire to debate their views, conservatives and Republicans across campus are not entitled to have others engage with them, particularly when their views are hateful.
Our peers on the Editorial Board affirmed in an editorial that conservatives should adapt to their environment if they want left-leaning students to debate with them. We agree that conservatives are not entitled to special treatment by virtue of their ideology; however, we wrote this dissent to express our discontent with the trivialization of the harm some conservative ideology has done and the comparison of minorities’ barriers in academia to the so-called oppression of conservatives.
We’re eager to engage with opposing viewpoints to solve issues of systemic racism, homophobia and misogyny, but we’re not willing to engage with people who deny or minimize their very existence.
Conservatives’ hesitation is not solely limited to our University: a research study at Tufts University (Mass.) highlighted that conservatives fear being called a bigot for their views, and thus disproportionately take solace in “outrage-based” media, which largely attempts to invoke an emotional response. In this study, every single conservative brought up a fear of being called racist, echoing the concerns of many conservatives on our campus.
So what did Emory conservative students point to as examples of campus hostility? Conflict on election night, liberal organizations’ unwillingness to debate them and Heather Mac Donald’s visit last year. Racism is often perpetuated under the guise of free speech, and Mac Donald’s visit was no exception. Some conservative students such as Colin Stelmach (23C), who did not think Mac Donald was openly attacking anyone, took the response to Mac Donald’s visit as an incident of left-leaning students being unwilling to engage with the opposite side. In reality, this event highlighted another incidence in which BIPOC were expected to suffer in the name of free speech..
As a previous editorial noted, left-leaning students engaged with Mac Donald, and they only disrupted her due to confusion over the event’s format and shock over her harmful rhetoric. In fact, current and former members of the Editorial Board pointed out that the “only time that [her] voice came close to being drowned out was when the audience erupted into exclamations of shock after [she] said that ‘the vast majority of what is called campus rape is voluntary hookups.’” Furthermore, her repeated claims that many Black, Indigenous and students of color are not qualified to be at institutions like Emory and that the oppression they face is a delusion are nothing less than racist and vile. To Emory Republicans and conservatives, we ask this: how do you expect us to engage in respectful dialogue when you bring people to campus who don’t respect our very existence?
Forcing students to engage in racist discussions for the purpose of “productive discourse” is mentally and emotionally damaging to minorities on campus. While white conservatives and Republicans may be able to engage in such discourse without reliving trauma related to oppression, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) should not be forced to entertain racist ideologies. Survivors of sexual assault should not be forced to hold space for rape apologists or deniers. The personal is political, and no one should have to subject themselves to repeated trauma because other people are complaining that their viewpoints — which directly oppose marginalized peoples — aren’t being heard. Politics isn’t a game. It permeates every aspect of our lives, and having to engage in discourse with beliefs that threaten our lives is harmful and wrong.
Recent mainstream media has branded Trumpian ideology as the epitome of neoconservative thought. Former President Donald Trump was certainly brazen in his racist actions, but racism is also subversive and not always explicitly stated. Even if conservatives adapt their rhetoric to make their views more palatable for debate, it does not ignore the racism, classism and sexism that often pervades their stances. Polite oppression is still oppression. Minorities are forced to adapt to racist environments, and attempting to use their struggles as something from which conservatives can learn is laughable and cruel.
The very basis of conservatism — a dedication to tradition and resistance to change — is rooted in upholding structures which marginalize BIPOC. At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, only 27% of Republicans strongly approved of the nonviolent protests. As journalist Peter Beinart noted, conservatives historically call for policies that target marginalized communities, such as strict drug laws on marijuana and crack cocaine in efforts to criminalize African Americans, but oppose such policies for the mostly white opioid or powder cocaine addicts. Furthermore, many conservatives’ viewpoints on issues such as health care and the minimum wage continue to limit marginalized communities’ access to a more equitable society. Conservatives must reckon with the hypocrisy and unjust nature of their platforms which demean BIPOC, low-income and LGBTQ+ individuals while protecting their own constituents.
Racist and classist tropes perpetuated by those who oppose welfare programs continue to harm homeless individuals and welfare recipients by denying them access to resources needed to survive. These policy platforms, while perhaps not as incendiary as direct and blatant discrimination, still yield the same devastating results, and even more so as these policies become ingrained in our government. As such, even if conservatives shift the tone of their rhetoric, they cannot expect BIPOC to immediately welcome them with open arms.
We stand against the trivialization of the deep-seated harm that conservatism often espouses. Respectful racism is still racism. And even if one claims to not assert racist views themselves, supporting the policies and standing behind the politicians who do is equally harmful. To be clear, we do not condone or excuse racist language and harmful policies from left-leaning politicians and individuals. We condemn them all the same, but we cannot ignore the tremendous harm some conservative ideals have on marginalized groups.
We recognize the likelihood that our words will be whittled down to notions of victimology. We respect Emory conservatives’ right to express themselves under the Respect for Open Expression Policy and understand the difficulty of holding viewpoints to which the majority do not conform. But we don’t owe them our humanity.
Brammhi Balarajan (23C) and Rachel Broun (23C) are members of the Editorial Board.