Pellissier: College campuses are afraid of listening to the right

Bernie Pellissier, Op-Ed Contributor

This past week featured two losses in the battle for open dialogue on college campuses. Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of the conservative website The Daily Wire, was scheduled to hold a lecture and Q&A session at DePaul on Nov. 15. But DePaul identified “security concerns,” despite the fact that there were no protesters on site that night.

Just days later, Shapiro was scheduled by the Young Americans For Freedom, a conservative-leaning student group, to talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Shapiro was protested by a group of students who organized themselves in a Facebook group entitled “f— White Supremacy: Interrupting Ben Shapiro.” This group disrupted the event with chants of “shame” and “safety” in response to the fact that they felt uncomfortable that the university was giving a platform to Shapiro’s ideas.

Shapiro has faced criticism for his stances against the supposed attack on free speech on college campuses, as he believes discussing ad nauseam micro-aggressions, safe spaces and white privilege suppresses the flow of dialogue on campuses.

Universities seem reluctant to listen to educated arguments from the right –– Shapiro seeks to show that subjects like privilege are reliant on more complex factors than just race, such as socioeconomic class or two parent vs. single parent households. Featuring Shapiro’s voice in the dialogue about safe spaces seems to be too much for many universities to handle.

Like many peer institutions, Northwestern doesn’t do nearly as good enough a job of making space for voices on both sides of the ideological spectrum. According to a Daily article from October, some conservative students at NU are fearful to speak about their beliefs. Eddie Soto, a Medill freshman, said many of his conservative beliefs including being in favor of states’ rights on abortion and gay marriage are enough to get himself “shunned” at this university. He claims that while dialogue is “huge” in the foundation of education, conservatives are not received with an open mind at NU.  “If you are a conservative, you are automatically considered hateful, small minded, bigoted, and irrelevant,” Soto said.

Our own President Morton Schapiro laid the foundation for this kind of small-minded culture at the Class of 2020’s convocation when he claimed that people who opposed safe spaces were “(doing) it from their segregated housing places, from their jobs without diversity — they do it from their country clubs.” Morty’s reductive statement suggests that the people who disagree with the idea of safe spaces, a very complex and often ambiguously-defined topic, only think this way because they sit on a throne of white privilege. If the left does defend the role of safe spaces, which in principle are meant to be a haven for open dialogue, they should create an environment that is inclusive and safe for those with differing viewpoints. Ironically, this cornerstone of left-leaning college life seems to shut down speech in practice.

People are tired of being told that if you believe one thing, you are evil, while if you believe another, you are morally superior. I know students who are yearning for discussion that features both sides of the argument. However, many college campuses, including our own, are hostile to ideas that are not in line with the liberal majority of students.

Bernie Pellissier is a McCormick freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.