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Why Disagreement Is Crucial to a Conservative Identity

At the start of every semester, I check the campus calendar to check out upcoming lectures given by visiting scholars and advocates. This spring, as in semesters past, a few events stand out. Some of these events pique my curiosity. Others seem more disagreeable. Yet, these—shall I say challenging—lectures make it on to my calendar. Opening myself to new and perhaps opposing views does not threaten my own. Listening and trying to understand others and their philosophies remains an imperative aspect of education—one that liberals and conservatives need to embrace. Unfortunately, many institutions of higher education have stifled these imperative dialogues.

Recently, administrations at several institutions of higher education have limited opportunities for such exchange. Free speech zones restrict open expression. Trigger warnings inhibit intellectual interaction. Avoidance of so-called ‘microagressions’ hinder organic encounters. More important, these policies stifle dialogue—exchanges integral to education and learning. As conservatives, we must overcome these impediments and engage with one another—conservative and liberal alike. With greater frequency, social institutions, such as the media, portray conservatives as a people grounded in fierce opposition; that is to say, conservatives—according to many non-conservatives—are anti-this or anti-that. This false characterization is only supported by refusal to engage with those around us.  

In fact, liberals often implement those policies that inhibit exchange—all in the name of ‘progress.’  In 2007, a group of scholars published “Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice” in American Psychologist. Since then, several institutions have espoused their findings to create "bias-free language guides." Such guides serve only to restrict conversation. (Interestingly, many of them have been removed from university websites.)

Worse, some professors have resorted to violence to prevent students from offense by language—or even presence. In 2014, Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, attacked a group of pro-life demonstrators for their “intolerance.” Dr. Miller-Young and her actions, despite a police investigation, were supported by the university. This past fall at the University of Missouri, where the student activist group Concerned Student 1950 voiced concerns of racial antagonism, assistant professor of communication Melissa Click threatened to forcibly remove a photographer—a student photographer—for covering the protest. These actions, from one who teaches about mass media, are inconceivable and unacceptable; college officials have largely avoided any punitive measures against Click. While many conservatives object to these policies and incidents—and rightly so—we must demonstrate our commitment to free and civil exchange.  

Participation in free dialogue can only serve to benefit the conservative identity. The importance of conversation resonates far beyond the boundaries of college and university campuses. Formal educations may conclude with the granting of an institutional diploma, but true learning, rooted in interaction and exploration, spans a lifetime. Conversation requires two. Resolve to engage in dialogues with others—even with those whose ideas and convictions run counter to your own.

Having grown up in suburban Pennsylvania, James P. Mitchell has enjoyed a variety of experiences, all of which have contributed to his philosophy and personal convictions. He is currently a student at Washington College on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he participates in several campus activities, tutors in the Writing Center, works with the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and serves on the College’s Honor Board. James is primarily interested in American History and Educational Policy.  


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