I just graduated from St. Olaf College after receiving an education I didn’t expect. That’s because as a conservative at my small, Minnesota-based liberal arts institution, I’ve spent the last four years defending myself against personal and political attacks from professors and peers alike.
The most recent example came in late April as the St. Olaf College Republicans hosted scholar Heather Mac Donald for a talk on her new book, “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture.”
As chair of the group, I fielded many angry emails, including this from a theater professor: “This speaker is dangerous. It’s not about a difference in idealogical [sic] perspectives. This rhetoric is dangerous and puts my Black body in danger. This is antithetical to the St. Olaf mission statement. I’m not okay with this… and you all shouldn’t be either.” Several more professors emailed similar sentiments.
This example is no outlier. In early 2018, college administrators shot down an effort to bring Ben Shapiro to campus for a speech. The officials denied the request by saying Shapiro was too divisive to bring to St. Olaf on the date in question. (It was the one-year anniversary of a racial protest on campus). They promised Shapiro could come at some unknown future date, but months of student organizing and planning were essentially wasted. Shapiro never made it to St. Olaf College.
Also last year, our College Republicans’ display called “Why I’m a Conservative” was torn down by students upset by its messaging. They were apparently triggered by expressions such as “All human life has value,” “Facts > feelings,” “I love economic freedom” and “I pay taxes.”
All these incidents spring from the prevailing ideology on campus, which was perhaps most evident the day after President Donald Trump was elected. The campus was in a tailspin. Several professors cried in front of their classes. Some canceled class altogether. Students openly wept in the quad. Protests broke out at a moment’s notice.
As a well-known conservative on campus, I received reports that my name was being mentioned frequently during those protests. As I walked into our student commons area, someone yelled: “If you voted for Trump, you better be f**king scared.” This prompted most students nearby to erupt in cheers and clapping. I quickly left the area.
Other conservative students have been targeted in this way. Several friends in the spring of 2017 said they felt violently threatened by peers and refrained from speaking about their political views out of fear.
In fact, fear was a constant feeling for conservatives on campus. In May 2017, when a massive protest engulfed the college over racist notes found on campus, my progressive peers put up posters declaring “I’m sick of white tears” and “f*ck your white complacency.” During the protest, student demonstrators took over portions of the school, blocking some entrances and effectively barricading students inside. Rewarding demonstrators for having successfully commandeered a campus building, administrators canceled classes the next day to address their grievances.
Later it was proven that the main “racist note” that had launched the campus coup was a hoax, written by a black, female student.
As I reflect on my four years in college, I admit I am disappointed in many ways. The lack of diversity of thought, the absence of respect for differing opinions, the threats, the bullying–it was all so juvenile and the antithesis of everything higher education is supposed to be.
Several professors stood apart from the madness and worked to provide an education, not indoctrination, but I will spare naming them here so as to protect their on-campus reputations. Meanwhile, administrators who wanted to please everyone often lacked conviction in defending marginalized voices, like conservative ones, and often made college life difficult. I can’t help but feel sad at the potential such a school, were it to focus on actual “diversity” and “inclusion” of all kinds.
But there is a bright side. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself, and I leave the campus with much thicker skin – and a clearer understanding of my own convictions. As I embark on a career, I can thank St. Olaf College for an education that made me stronger, tougher, and more resilient. I hope students like me keep going there, keep challenging the status quo, and keep fighting for the education they deserve. Even if they don’t get it, the lessons they do learn will surely prepare them for real life.
Kathryn Hinderaker, a 2018 journalism fellow for The College Fix, is a 2019 graduate of St. Olaf College.