I would first like to thank Professor Crane for writing an admittedly “uncomfortable” article for me to read regarding conservatives at Williams. That being said, I offer, in the spirit of civil and robust debate, my equally “uncomfortable” response:
I agree with Professor Crane that procedural symmetry is important. That is, funding for unofficial student groups like “Uncomfortable Learning” can and should follow certain guidelines, but the conceptual framework of his article is troubling. Just consider the context he provides: “A very small conservative group” has nefariously leveraged their privilege into dollars, bringing speakers to campus in an ideological alliance with the “right-wing media.” For students who are, in fact, conservative, that’s not exactly apocalyptic.
This context, whether true or not, suggests an irreparable ideological fault-line running through campus–minority conservatives and majority liberal. Sadly, Professor Crane’s contention that conservatives on campus somehow don’t follow the rules contributes to that division.
I think the larger intellectual challenge is to avoid these generalizations. To his credit, Crane admits ideological labels are fluid, particularly among academics, but the same is true with students. I might, for example, lean left on social issues but consider Paul Ryan something of a political hero of mine (full disclosure: he is). A “liberal” friend might believe strongly in an inclusive immigration policy but spurn environmentalism.
Thus I would challenge faculty and students at Williams to view the issue of political ideology without such rigid classifications. This might seem self-evident, but I think this recent debate serves as a useful reminder that labels, even those such as “liberal” and “conservative,” can lead to misinformation and misunderstanding. Political diversity comes in many shapes and sizes.
I might also challenge the assumption that student groups such as “Uncomfortable Learning” are instruments of outside conservative moneyed interests. This approach to the problem ignores the very fact that the students themselves choose the speakers. Sure, we can criticize access to resources, but we should not criticize how they are used. These speakers represent debates some in the community (but, clearly, not all) are willing to have. In some ways, these extra resources provide an effective balancing tool against entrenched beliefs at Williams.
I can’t speak for all conservatives on campus because that broad a label ignores the reality of individual experience, but I would say the idea that conservatives want some sort of “special attention or treatment” is disingenuous. Unless of course, special treatment means fair treatment. I would gladly accept that privilege.