Conservative Students Use Social Media as Shelter from Liberal Campuses

June 15, 2014

By Kim Kozlowski at The Detroit News

Jordan Zammit was in a political science class at Central Michigan University when the professor said something about the military that really offended him.

But instead of keeping quiet, the student — who has family members in the Army and Marines — pulled up his Twitter account and fired back.

“A professor at #MyLiberalCampus told me only people too poor and dumb for college join the military,” he tweeted to hundreds of his followers.

In that moment, Zammit joined students nationwide who are trying to bring awareness of what it’s like to hold conservative values on college campuses, long considered left-leaning bastions.

Taking a cue from other social media campaigns, college Republicans have turned to Twitter to talk about their experiences, using the #MyLiberalCampus hashtag. The campaign comes as hashtag activism is growing worldwide, protests of political speakers on campuses are spreading and diversity is being increasingly debated within academia.

But in this case, diversity is viewed through the prism of political ideology.

“These professors hammer their beliefs and make you feel stupid if you don’t agree with them,” said Zammit, a senior from Woodhaven. “It makes learning in an environment like that really hard.”

A hashtag is a word or words used on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook that is preceded by the number sign (#) to classify conversations about topics, and make them easily searchable.

As it became more commonplace, hashtags evolved to include activists, and today they are being used to promote a wide range of causes.

Such Twitter campaigns include #bringbackourgirls, an effort to help find 200 abducted Nigerian girls, and #BBUM, which discusses the climate for black students at the University of Michigan.

Experts say hashtag campaigns have highlighted and broadened conversations about issues.

At U-M, the #BBUM campaign led to several meetings with university administrators. That, in turn, produced several initiatives aimed at increasing black enrollment and improving the campus climate for minority students.

The College Republican National Committee launched the #MyLiberalCampus hashtag this year when Jason Veley, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, recorded his creative writing professor referring to Republicans as “racist, misogynist, money-grubbing people (who) have so much power over the rest of us and want things to go back, not to 1955 but to 1855.”

The professor, Brent Terry, issued a written apology through the university after the audio that Veley had recorded during the class got media attention.

Around the same time, the #MyLiberalCampus campaign was launched, and hundreds of students from across the country jumped in to tell stories about their frustration, said Alex Smith, national chairman of the College Republicans.

On Twitter, students lamented about their “commie” professors; how their university did nothing after college Republican meeting announcements were torn down and vandalized, and a case where an instructor remarked that Republicans were worse than pedophiles.

According to the College Republican National Committee, more than 250,000 student Republicans are on more than 1,800 campuses in every state and the District of Columbia.

Also caught up in campus politics are outside speakers.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia civil liberties group, issued a report last month showing a growing number of campus speakers are being disinvited.

According to the report, more disinvitations involved visitors with a conservative point of view. For instance, after Rutgers University students protested a planned commencement speech last month by Condoleezza Rice, the Republican former secretary of state declined the invitation.

“Universities tend to lean very much to the left,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE. “There’s no denying you are more likely to get in trouble for conservative opinions on campus than other opinions.”

Though conservative students appreciate the #MyLiberalCampus hashtag, not all of them want to use it.

College Republicans at Central Michigan University recently were dismayed by an editorial published in the student newspaper, Central Michigan Life, that said the Republican Party hasn’t done much to remind students they can be a part of the political process.

Students could have begun a Twitter campaign with the #MyLiberalCampus hashtag. But Marie Sokolosky, CMU Republicans social media chairwoman, said the group handled it instead by writing a letter to the editor, which was published.

In the letter, the group said student Republicans have repeatedly asked the student newspaper to share events, views and opinions but they have been refused for publication, misquoted or taken our of context on the few occasions when college Republicans were interviewed.

The letter felt like it would be more appropriate and effective than a social media campaign, Sokolosky said.

“We didn’t want to create any morehostility than had already been created against us,” Sokolosky said.

Ben Solis, who became editor-in-chief of Central Michigan Life last month, said there may have been a culture at the student newspaper that didn’t include conservative viewpoints, but he is trying to change that. The editorial was not meant to slight Republican students, he said, but instead aimed at encouraging them to inform the newspaper about their events.

“It’s important for our students to see all sides of the political spectrum,” Solis said. “Accuracy is everything, but fairness is our currency. The way to be fair is to see all sides.”

Conservative students’ speech should be respected because the Constitution requires it and because doing so follows the principles of academic freedom, said Lee Rowland, staff attorney of the national American Civil Liberties Union.

“Students on public college campuses have the same constitutional rights of free speech regardless of where their views lie on the political spectrum,” Rowland said. “Our Constitution has served us well even when it protects speech and especially when it protects controversial speech, particularly on a college campus.”

In a recent interview with The Detroit News, Gov. Rick Snyder recalled his time at the University of Michigan during the late 1970s and early 1980s. During that time, protesters were marching against something every week, on a wide spectrum of topics.

But everyone respected one another’s opinions, the governor said.

“You always want openness on a college campus,” Snyder said. “Universities and colleges are always supposed to be a great place for discussion. I hope people always have an open mind about discussing all points of view.”

Schools: Central Michigan University