In 2015, Clayton Rose cemented a very clear vision for his presidency: “If you think the same way, and think about the same things in the same way four years from now, something has gone wrong.”
Take a moment and reflect on President Rose’s words. Has something “gone wrong” in your time at Bowdoin, or has your mind been challenged and evolved?
For most students, that “change” might mean provocative professors pushing you further to the left, or groupthink with like-minded friends in a competition for who appears the most “progressive.” At Bowdoin, conservatism is something to be disproved whereas liberalism doesn’t face equal scrutiny. Peer pressure is often employed to discourage moderate and conservative students from speaking their minds.
Contrary to widespread notions, conservatism isn’t racism, greed or hate. Hate speech is hate speech, and it is erroneous to think alt-right ideas are in any way conservative. Conservatism at its core is the belief in self-reliance. We believe in enfranchising people to take control of their own lives without an overbearing government. We believe the purpose of the government is to create an environment for maximizing, not hampering, the potential of all citizens, and that innovation and free enterprise are critical to solving the many issues of the world we face today.
Here is the reality: it is a disservice to the personal and intellectual development of every Bowdoin student to fail to seriously engage with opposing viewpoints. So how can we create an environment that allows free and open debate? Here are our suggestions:
As students, we should pressure our faculty to give a fair assessment of opposing ideas, and the faculty should demand the same of themselves and their syllabi. Professors are here to educate students, not indoctrinate. It is a poor reflection of our class environment when conservative students find it more convenient to make liberal arguments in exchange for a better grade.
To the liberals on campus: look in the mirror. Are you subconsciously shutting out opposing arguments without looking at their merits? Do you scream “fake news!” when failures of liberal policies are brought before you? Or, perhaps, are you complicit in inflicting assumptions about peers who might disagree with you? Self-reflection must be followed by action—kudos to those who took the first step and attended Steven Hayward’s talk on Halloween night.
To the conservatives on campus: step up. This campus needs you, and keeping quiet is not doing anyone good. The path toward “intellectual fearlessness” is a two-way street, and we all have a responsibility to present a view that not only challenges other students, but allows yourself to test the strength of your own arguments. Don’t take a professor’s viewpoints for granted. If it clashes with your thoughts, ask provocative questions—you might reinforce your beliefs or be forced to create new ones.
To the administration: events like the Kristof/Riley and Brooks/Bruni discussions are steps in the right direction, but is this just a box to check off? We must erect institutional assurances for the perpetuation of discourse. Hereby, we make a call to action for the Bowdoin community to join over a dozen colleges in the nation—including Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Northwestern—and adopt the Chicago Statement on free expression, which ensures “free and open inquiry in all matters” for students and faculty, and acknowledges “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” The path towards amending Bowdoin’s intellectual shortcomings involves everyone—students, faculty and the administration.
As persons of color, children of immigrants and co-leaders of the College Republicans, we embrace conservatism as essential to progressing a diverse and changing America. We know Bowdoin is capable of achieving authentic intellectual diversity, but everyone must play their part. Enough with the trite, “it’s good to hear different points of view” euphemism from our peers, followed by inaction. It is time to engage and reap the fruits of your education.
Francisco Navarro is a member of the Class of 2019 and Ben Wu is a member of the Class of 2020.