Today we discussed the formal censuring of a conservative student at Georgetown for his criticism of Black Lives Matter as an organization and his objections to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court. Georgetown University has remained silent as the student has been declared a racist and the student government called for his investigation. At Penn State, the university took an important step in this time of rising intolerance and actually included conservative students in a welcoming message. It did not last. After an outcry from students, the university deleted the tweet — thereby sending precisely the opposite message to conservative students.
Penn State University went out a tweet affirming the inclusive environment at the school that included welcoming messages for a wide variety of student groups including a line stating “Dear conservative students. Your viewpoints are important.”
Students reacted with outrage at the notion of expressly welcoming conservative students to campus. For example, the student newspaper, reported that “student Cassandra Nuñez said the experiences of conservative students and students of color cannot not be presented as equal in any way.” She is quoted as writing “Conservatives in the United States do not live in a system that was built from the blood and trauma of their ancestors — a system that continues to put down people who look like [their ancestors] every day.” There was no objection to other groups being welcomed, just the conservative students.
Rather than reinforce its support for students of color, the university yielded to demands and actually withdrew its welcoming statement to conservatives. The explanation was perfectly Orwellian. Penn State Director of Strategic Communications William Hessert, Jr stated that the school wanted “to express the inclusive, democratic and participatory values of the liberal arts.” However, the “message was not being received well and it is important for us that our messages be received as intended.” To unpack this: we wanted to assure conservative students with other students that they are welcomed but many disagreed with their inclusion in that sentiment. So we deleted the welcome.
Hessert told one site “While we do not believe in deleting our posts, given the sensitivities of the matter we felt that it was better to remove it.”
There was another possibility. Be more inclusive rather than exclusive. I would have preferred an additional reference for liberal or progressive students or even libertarians. The point is that Penn State celebrates its rich diversity of viewpoints, experiences, and culture.
There is a very good reason to reach out to conservative students given the rising intolerance for opposing views on our campuses. As we discussed recently, polling shows that conservative students are much more fearful of expressing themselves in classes and on campuses due to a lack of support — and often outright hostility — from administrators and faculty. The ham-handed action of Penn State took an important gesture of inclusivity and turned it into a chilling messaging of hostility for conservative students who want to join their community.