Conservative pundit Heather Mac Donald’s speech on campus last week was controversial to say the least. To see some of my perspective on the problematic and misleading claims that clouded her speech (particularly in regard to her statements on sexual assault and perpetuation of the model minority myth) check out this week’s editorial, to which I contributed. I felt the need to write an op-ed related to the editorial because I believe the conservative perspective and motive for inviting Mac Donald needed to be analyzed. Heather Mac Donald’s mere invitation to speak was intended to provoke, polarize and give attention to conservative groups on campus. It is symptomatic of institutional marginalization of political voices from the right and center at universities across America, including Emory.
Political marginalization is not strictly partisan. Universities like the Catholic University of America (D.C.) and Brigham Young (Idaho campus) are known for muffling progressive voices. However, it is far more common for conservatives to have their voices stifled. A 2017 Gallup poll found that conservatives are the most likely group within college contexts to have their voices suppressed. It is unfortunate to see that same type of marginalization happening at Emory.
By no means was inviting Mac Donald the answer to Emory’s conservative students. If anything, her speech widened the gap between these students and their liberal-leaning peers. The truth is, the real answer to polarization is conversation. Unfortunately, Emory has not provided an environment that is truly safe for students with conservative political leanings to voice their own views. Because of the implicit bias that runs throughout universities, students on both sides of the aisle are becoming further entrenched in their own views and, in some cases, radicalized.
The problem of partisanship is not necessarily the administration’s fault alone. Responsibility also falls on students. In the long-term, it is reductionist to dismiss voices that dissent from the progressive agenda as racist, sexist and xenophobic over misunderstandings and ideological differences. Accusations of racism and sexism should be used with clear intention because of the power and potential consequences they hold. By calling someone who questions the validity of affirmative action or diversity a racist, it effectively silences opposition or simply the process of questioning a governmental policy. Generally speaking, no college student wants to be called a bigot. If Emory’s predominantly liberal student population cannot listen to opposing views without going straight to identity politics and name calling, the arguments will cease to exist as students with different views begin to silence themselves, fearing social ostracization.
In the long-term, students need to think about what their political goals and motives are. I understand debate can easily be offensive, but students on campus need to realize that in some capacity conservatives are offended everyday on campus. There often is no “safe space” on campus for them to voice their views without receiving some level of vitriol in return. Argument calls on the risk of offensiveness for the hope of understanding. Feelings might get hurt, but ideas should never be marginalized. Some could argue that by promoting open discussion Emory would just be giving a platform to fringe academics like Mac Donald. I would contend, however, that extremist views are symptomatic of a lack of debate, rather than a product of it.
In conclusion, I hope in the coming years that Emory’s administration and student body work to foster a discussion-friendly campus environment. Without meaningful conversation, neither liberal nor conservative students will experience the kind of evolution of thought and opinion that universities are meant to generate.
Nick Pernas (19Ox, 20C) is from Portland, Ore.