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Please stop tokenizing conservative speakers

April 19, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Shona Ortiz

On Monday, President Clayton Rose hosted Governor John Kasich for a discussion of current issues. Pickard Theater was packed almost to capacity, and yet the event was largely inconsequential to campus life. I left with more questions than answers, partly because Kasich never actually answered a question but mostly because he offered little in terms of conservative thought—Kasich is a moderate.

To his credit, I did learn a fair amount about Kasich’s accomplishments. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he balanced the federal budget for the first time in over 30 years, and as governor of Ohio, Kasich netted a $2.7 billion dollar surplus for the state’s rainy day fund. In his words, the governor also expanded Medicaid to 600,000 Ohioans and “dealt with the issue of race.”

Aside from these self-congratulatory accolades, I didn’t learn much about Kasich’s ideology. He grew up in a blue-collar town where “they put roadblocks up to keep Republicans from getting in.” After a weird, but admittedly cool, college trip to the Oval Office, Kasich apparently decided to join the Republican party. He encouraged students to look for similar opportunities and unaffiliate themselves with a party but in the same breath admitted, “I was a Republican really all of my life.”

I think Kasich’s visit tokenized conservative thought. His ideas were contradictory, and his delivery was honestly quite rude. He refused to answer a student’s question, and then went on to end his own talk right at the 60-minute mark. If Kasich didn’t want to be here, then he should not have come. President Rose never should have invited him in the first place.

As Kasich articulated, change comes from the bottom up, and, though we should, I don’t think my peers care to engage in political debate with conservatives. We are a liberal campus, and a publicity stunt like “An Evening with Governor John Kasich,” is not going to change that, nor will the appointment of Arthur Brooks as a Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow.

It seems to me that by strong-arming this political change from the top, President Rose is shortchanging the College of the opportunity to engage authentically with conservative speakers. Was the McKeen Center involved in the decision to appoint Arthur Brooks? Were faculty? What about students? Rather than invite outsiders to campus, we should start by getting to know the Republicans who are already members of our community.

When Republicans take the time to self-identify on this campus, we should engage with them across difference. Last semester, Theo de Quillacq ’21 published his op-ed, “I Am Brett Kavanaugh,” and there was a ferocious backlash both online and in print. Dozens of students shared his op-ed on Facebook with angry comments, and the following week, eight students wrote op-eds of their own in direct response to de Quillacq. But how many of them spoke to de Quillacq in person? Did anyone confront him in civil debate, or did we all just talk shit behind his back?

More recently, the Bowdoin Republicans published table tents in the dining halls about affirmative action. The poorly written text called the policy “the most widely accepted form of institutionalized racism,” and once again, a white man spoke on behalf of a group he does not identify with. I personally found this language frustrating, as did many of our affinity groups, but, in the writer’s defense, there was a disclaimer associated with message article: “The College Republicans meet every Saturday at 6:30 in Thorne for dinner and a conversation. All are welcome.” I, for one, will be attending this weekend’s Republicans meeting because I would like to talk to this peer of mine in person.

There is value in conservative thought on campus. I find that it helps distinguish people’s actual political views. Not everyone here is a bro-cialist, nor is everyone in this country even remotely liberal. My Republican friends remind me of our nation’s sociopolitical climate and challenge me to consider solutions to problems that will work in the real world.

I don’t think we need conservative speakers to accomplish this objective. We can start by having conversations with members of our community. I will be joining the Republicans for dinner this Saturday, and I hope you will consider coming as well. The only way to bridge the divides of the College is for students to work with other students.

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3 comments:

  1. Aaron Kissel says:

    Diversity does not only apply to race and sexual orientation. It also applies to thought. The idea that “tokenizing” conservative thought is harmful to our liberal campus contradicts the liberal values we claim to cherish. To me, Liberalism means standing up for freedom of speech. It means allows values that conflict from my own to be heard. Simply because he isn’t a member of the Bowdoin Community doesn’t mean he can’t bring something valuable to the table. Even though I disagree with John Kasich on many issues, I hope Bowdoin continues to bring in more conservative speakers, who challenge our established world view in a respectful and productive manner.

    • Paige O'Connor '20 says:

      Aaron,

      Unless I am misunderstanding him, I don’t think Nate means to say that we should never bring conservative speakers to campus. I think he is observing (correctly) that the College’s recent efforts to bring big-name “conservatives” to Bowdoin, for the purpose of sparking inter-party dialogue, have largely failed. In my own experience, interacting with conservative students and attending events held by the Bowdoin College Republicans and the Eisenhower Forum has allowed me to engage with conservatism in a far more fruitful manner than sitting in an amphitheater and listening to the platitudes of a well-known stranger.

      To me, such an approach is futile. Meaningful conversation requires a more intimate setting than a packed Pickard Theatre, and more back-and-forth dialogue than the standard Q&A period allows. I agree with Nate that there is value to conservative thought on campus; when I engage with it, it challenges some of my current beliefs and sharpens others. Most of the administration’s purported attempts to bring about this engagement, however, have surprised me in their superficiality. They only seem to be making the campus more obstinate to conservative thought, at great financial expense to the College, and to the detriment of all parties.

  2. Mike ‘04 says:

    I think it would be worthwhile for Bowdoin to have a screening of Mike Nayna’s three-part documentary about the student takeover of Evergreen State College. From reading the pages of the Orient, it seems Bowdoin is descending into the same pit.

    Part 1: https://youtu.be/FH2WeWgcSMk


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