US universities are often bastions of progressive Democrats, but Donald Trump’s election has spurred a growing number of conservative students to step out of the shadows and become increasingly vocal.
Even though both right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative firebrand Ann Coulter cancelled planned appearances at the University of California, Berkeley in the face of threats and violent protests, Democrats don’t always have a stranglehold on campus.
“Conservative students are becoming less hesitant to speak out,” says Sterling Beard, editor-in-chief of Campus Reform, which supports young conservatives in denouncing progressive bias on campus.
The recent violence at Berkeley, he says, makes the job easier “because so many of their liberal peers have become hysterical.”
Two of these new conservative voices are Nick Fuentes at Boston University and William Long at Harvard, who are finishing the school year happy to go into battle to defend their ideas to peers in the majority opposing camp.
Both voted for Trump, if for different reasons.
– Pariah –
Long, the 20-year-old son of Chinese immigrants from Oklahoma pursuing a double major in computer science and government, is a Republican in the traditional sense of the word — anti-abortion, socially and fiscally conservative, and determined, as he tells it, to “conserve the good things.”
Long says his reasons for voting Trump are “complex” and admits he was uncomfortable broadcasting that fact right after the election, when the torrent of anti-Trump sentiment led some to suggest the Republican’s supporters were “fascists.”
But the keen debater says even though “actively involved” conservatives account for less than five percent of the student body at Harvard, Trump’s win has given them more of a platform to air their ideas.
“Lots of people were wondering, ‘How did this happen? Who was it that voted for him?'” Long says. The election “did give us a voice, in the sense that people were more willing to listen to us.”
Fuentes, an 18-year-old studying international relations and political science, is more radical. He identifies himself with the “new right” or “alt-right,” wants to halt immigration and denounces the political correctness he sees “everywhere.”
Vice President Mike Pence similarly spoke out against political correctness Sunday in a commencement speech at Notre Dame University, calling it “nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech.”
Dozens of students walked out in protest as Pence started to speak at the university in his home state of Indiana.
Fuentes is an ardent Trump supporter and with a taste for the provocative, walks around Boston in “Make America Great Again” Trump campaign hats, even if it makes him a “pariah” by his own admission.
“I get harassed almost every week on social media,” he says. “I was given death threats to my face by people.”
He could easily have gone to a conservative college, but “what fun is that?” he says. “I figured I’d agree with everybody there.”
He has spent his freshman year blending fact, opinion, current affairs and history into a program filmed in his small dorm room and shown by the Alabama-based Right Side Broadcasting Network, a conservative channel on YouTube.
– Trump lesson –
But neither Fuentes nor Long expect the conservative-liberal balance of power to change substantially on campus.
Beard agrees — “not in the short term,” he says.
Marie Danziger, who has taught for 30 years at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, believes conservative ideas are gaining ground even if conservative students and faculty remain in the minority.
While students in the past were often idealists, thinking about volunteering in Africa, for example, she says today’s crop “are much more comfortable with what we used to think of as a conservative business-oriented mentality.”
A rise in conservatism is also fueled by a growing number of active duty US soldiers or veterans on campus, as well as foreign students from countries such as China, Russia or Singapore, says the lecturer, who teaches a course on persuasion.
“The other big change,” says Danziger, is a recognition “that we are as the one percent not universally loved by many of the people we will be leading in the future.
“That means finding ways to either underplay our education or our left-leaning tendencies,” she said.
Trump’s shock defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton had left students asking themselves if there was “some way” they could learn from the billionaire tycoon.
“What do we learn from Trump, but how can we use that in a way that we find morally and factually acceptable? This is the problem I am going to open my first class (with) in September,” she said.