Fighting for the Soul of America: College Students on the Frontlines of Their Generation
- “Our university students are being brought up to treat the other side as their enemy, instead of their fellow Americans.”
- “Our culture is so toxic and divisive, that if we don’t fix our political atmosphere first, nothing that we do at our universities matter.”
- “…it is hard to feel welcome on your campus (as a conservative) when it feels like every institution is against you, even in a school system run by the Republican-led government in Iowa.”
School: The University of Iowa
Major: Ethics, Politics, and Economics
You were a congressional intern for the U.S House of Representatives from May to August of 2022. Considering your experience, how do you think the divisive identity politics being taught at universities will affect our future leaders on Capitol Hill?
Being in DC and interning at the Capitol was very illuminating and it truly gives you an inside look into why Washington is dysfunctional. At every level, even down to the interns, people are divided between Republicans and Democrats. I seldom ever interacted with Democrat interns apart from the people I lived with. There also is minimal debate on the House floor or in committees. When I got a chance to sit in on the Judiciary Committee hearing for the gun control bill this summer, most members were on Zoom- and the ones in the room were clearly not listening or having a dialogue with their colleagues but instead yelling and getting their one-minute clip for Twitter or cable news. I am scared as more and more members of Congress get elected and become even more and more adversarial and combative instead of collaborative and congenial. Our university students are being brought up to treat the other side as their enemy, instead of their fellow Americans. It runs deeper than just the identity politics of black vs. white, man vs. woman and gay vs. straight, the left vs. right divide is more striking to me. If we are ever going to prosper as a country, we must get over our differences and work together for the greater good.
In your guest column for the Daily Iowan, you talked about how you and your conservative colleagues deal with accusations of fascism due to your political views. What is your response to outrageous claims like these as a conservative student?
It’s difficult, and it’s especially hurtful when a school newspaper that is kept alive by university funding is using its resources to write hit pieces on fellow students. I am thankful that we were allowed to write our own rebuttal that was received very well minus a few comments on Facebook. However, a week later we received an email from one of their journalists, Yasmina Sahir, asking us about the history of fascism in the GOP and how she was planning to write an article rebutting my rebuttal- it’s so unbelievably ridiculous. I went to the office of institutional equity to file a complaint and kindly asked our university to tell the Daily Iowan to move on and write about other things, and it appears that story did not move forward (so half points only to the Daily Iowan). It is clear that no matter what we say, no matter how ridiculous or baseless your claim is, you can never win. We are proud of our response and think it clearly encapsulates our feelings about those words, but it is hard to feel welcome on your campus when it feels like every institution is against you, even in a school system run by the Republican-led government in Iowa. If this is how it is at public institutions in red states, I can only imagine the nonsense and hurt that happens to conservative students at public universities in blue states.
You wrote about your frustration and concerns regarding the violence occurring during campus conservative events. Do you believe that the University of Iowa addresses these incidents equally across all student groups?
I don’t know if the university handles these incidents equally, because these things only happen to conservative organizations on campus. In the span of about a month, my school has had three different violent attacks against conservative students; conversely, I believe our liberal friends received zero. It also feels like the rules apply differently to conservatives and liberals- and consequences are not always enforced the same. For example, whenever a conservative group advertises a speaker by taping flyers around campus, following all the rules, people will come and rip them down within minutes. Recently a new group the “Young Democratic Socialist of Iowa” is starting a club on campus and their flyers that they have taped around campus have remain hung up. We believe in free speech, we believe that they have the right to exist on our campus, no matter how strongly we disagree. I think the most disheartening thing is how openly and unabashedly that some activists do these things to us. When we had our table flipped, the guy tried to walk away, but gladly smiled into my camera when I went up to confront him. The only reason we found his name out is because he admitted to doing it when someone point blank asked him, and he proudly took responsibility for attacking his fellow Hawkeyes. These people are not afraid of being caught, they feel like the University and the student body will back them up, and that’s the scariest thing.
How much responsibility do you believe the administration holds when it comes to political division among students on campus? Do you think the situation would improve if professors fostered a more objective environment?
I think our university leadership tries their best to protect free speech. Our board of regents has a committee focused on free speech issues on the three public campuses in Iowa; I have had the opportunity to talk to some of them and I truly believe they care about these issues. I also believe our University President and most of our top-level university administrators also care and want these issues to be resolved. The problem is the people below, the thousands of faculties and staff who may not believe in or care enough about protecting free speech. We always say it starts from the top, but I believe it starts from the bottom. It starts with the students and staff that interact with students at the lowest level to foster that environment of speech. I know that there are plenty of people in our university staff who believe in these principles, but I know there is only so much that they can even do. Our culture is so toxic and divisive, that if we don’t fix our political atmosphere first, nothing that we do at our universities matter.
In your Daily Iowan article, you wrote, “While we continue to be attacked and targeted, we will not stop calling out unacceptable behavior and demand justice”. Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for fellow conservative students across the country who are dealing with the same issues?
I beg every conservative student to never give up! Throughout this semester I have had my moments where I just wanted to quit and to step out of the spotlight, but every time I remember that that is what they want us to do. They want us to sit down and shut up and that is something I refuse to do. Find your community, you are not alone! Even on the most liberal campuses, at least 1% of people agree with you-find them and stand strong together. It takes bravery to do what I and many conservative students do across the country. It takes bravery to be a conservative voice on your student government; it takes bravery to stand on campus behind a table labeled “College Republicans;” and it takes bravery do interviews and put your name in the school newspaper. I know it may be hard, but we are in a fight for the soul of our nation, and we are on the frontlines of our generation. We have to decide what country we want to live in 20 years from now, and that decision is one we make with our actions today.