A short preface: Penn, surely, is strengthened by its status as a progressive institution. It is diverse and eclectic, and it empowers all to seek the resources and opportunities they deserve. As an institution it promotes the traditional liberal values (like tolerance of diverse opinions) which improve our modern society, and it provides a space where students can embrace these values.
Or so students can pretend to embrace them — that is, until the defiant conservative voice pipes up. Here, in spaces where minority rightist thought challenges majority leftist viewpoints, is where tolerance goes to die. Existent on campus is a culture dedicated to shaming conservative thought.
Never was this culture more evident than during last week, when students were hard at work ridiculing a student who posted in the Class of 2019 Facebook group — he announced his interest in starting a “pro-life club” on campus, and encouraged anyone interested or curious to inquire.
The student was roundly slammed in what quickly devolved into a forum dedicated to derision, mockery of his post and assaults on the pro-life stance. Student engagement on the post reached into the hundreds. The less abrasive commenters left snide remarks and pictures; the nastier ones told him he was not entitled to an opinion, and some went further to deny him the possibility that his opinion is a valid one to possess. Opposition to these types of commenters was seen, albeit to a lesser extent.
A reminder is in order that this circus of insults and jeers started because a young man merely asked whether there were fellow students interested in joining a club. A further reminder that this example is far from being the only of its nature. What happened to the liberal mantra of tolerating different types of people?
A typical response to this by the “conservative-shamers” might be to declare “we won’t tolerate intolerance.” But this rebuttal won’t do — it is terribly vapid and woefully ignorant of the many motivations for conservative stances.
I will pause to say that surely this shaming behavior does not characterize all students. And surely free speech is free speech, and all ideas should (and must) be challenged. But there is a large difference between civil debate and mockery; this Facebook exchange overwhelmingly demonstrated the latter. And there is cause to be concerned about concerted efforts to suppress thought.
To deny the space for conservative opinions to be expressed on campus is a sad display of self-righteousness, and is antithetical to true liberalism. Furthermore, it demonstrates only a selective capability to embrace a core liberal tenet: tolerance. To engage in groupthink — and to believe that because conservatives comprise a small minority on campus, they must be wrong — is dangerous. To contribute to a culture that tells conservatives that they should expect or perhaps deserve to be belittled, and told their ideas are invalid, is toxic.
The Facebook exchanges might appear inconsequential, but they are only an example of a broad and hurtful campus culture. It is exemplary of the very culture that makes my conservative peers tell me they are afraid to “come out” to their colleagues, for fear of ostracism. It is the culture that silences them by branding them an –ist or a –phobe before they can make a case to the contrary. It is the culture that compels them to sit quietly in class, unable to speak their mind because they are certain to face ridicule. It is the culture that makes them feel ashamed about their very identity.
Naturally it is imperative that this culture of respect cuts both ways. I merely seek to highlight how the disrespect seems to disproportionately affect conservatives. The deck is stacked against them already in terms of numbers. Imagine being left-leaning but having to sit in a room and debate with 20 people who think like Ted Cruz, and you will understand the kind of frustration that conservatives feel at times.
We know that the open expression of ideas across the entire spectrum of opinions is essential for a free and truly American society. It is a message that Penn has rightly emphasized to us. It is our job as students and representatives to step up and ensure that we are upholding this value.
LUKE TORTORA is a College sophomore.
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