According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the number one definition of tolerance is: “the capacity to endure pain or hardship,” followed by “a sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” Yet, when I hear the word “tolerance” thrown around on our campus, it rarely feels like we are talking about the textbook definition of tolerance at all.
In fact, it often seems that when someone is asking you to tolerate their opinions these days, they are telling you to affirm them. As a conservative, when I respectfully disagree on issues such as abortion, gun rights, universal health care or free higher education, I am often told that my opinions are invalid, insensitive or bigoted. On a college campus as liberal as the University of Michigan, with 90 percent of voters at campus polling places voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and a university president who openly applauded this while condemning students who may have voted for Donald Trump, it seems that disagreeing on such contentious issues is simply unacceptable.
While I have come in contact with this sort of problem many times on campus, a bright and shining example occurred just the other day when I volunteered to help table at an informative pro-life event on the Diag sponsored by Students for Life and co-sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom and the Network of Enlightened Women. While standing at the table and engaging in thoughtful debate with someone who disagreed with us, a female student walked up to us and simply said, “What’s up, c**ts?” After this initial exchange, she continued to stand there while refusing to engage with us, before asking another student if he’d “like to get away from these motherfuckers?” before eventually storming off, flipping us off and yelling, “Fuck you!”
One would hope that this sort of experience is a rarity. One would also hope this individual represents a minority of college-aged youth seemingly incapable of defending their ideologies with logic and intellect, who resort to petty insults and profanity. But this sort of interaction is actually not that rare at all. It seems that the mentality of the modern leftist movement — that their ideas are all together infallible — has led to a stark entitlement that they should never have to be challenged, and when they are, the challenges are automatically illegitimate. For example, as a political science student I have heard from other students in my classes that there “is not room for people like me in America anymore,” “small town conservatives don’t want our intelligence,” “conservatives have small minds,” “most white people are racist” and “conservatives hate women.” Additionally, in my four years at the University, only one of my professors has openly identified as right of center and most of my professors have either openly identified as liberal or made clearly liberal statements in class. This problem is only compounded by the “safe space” mentality that has gripped so many college campuses to date and allowed young liberals to think they deserve to be “shielded” and “protected” from opposing opinions by their university, which means the University affirms that this sentiment is true.
From my experience, the political left on this campus does not try to be tolerant of my political beliefs. They don’t feel that they need to listen to the reasoning for my beliefs or respect my culture and values. They don’t have to be tolerant of my notion of small government, the sanctity of life at conception or my interpretation of the Second Amendment. In fact, they get to call me names, yell, protest, and use the common scapegoats of “ists” and “isms” to dismiss legitimate intellectual conversation.
They don’t have to engage in debate with contentious political speakers on the other side of the political spectrum, either. They wish to shut them down, be shielded from them by safe spaces and deny their rights to free speech. When conservative speaker Ben Shapiro came to campus on March 12, for instance, counter protesters met to organize a protest that goals included distracting from Shapiro’s message by “diverging attendees’ attention through live entertainment.” Comments by members in attendance included people calling him a “right-wing bigot.” At the event, Shapiro explicitly said that anyone who disagreed could come to the front of the line for questions, as he does at every event, and yet there was not one question challenging any of his beliefs. Even though as a conservative, I agreed with much of what he was saying, I don’t agree with all of his opinions and I was disappointed that he did not face any intellectual challenges at a supposedly esteemed, intellectual campus.
While certain levels of extremism must certainly be condemned, like arguments for racial supremacy, this piece speaks to the alarming number of people on the left who are labeling almost all views contradictory to their own as intolerable. They say the right “hates women” when we push back against abortion, without hearing the complex moral, biological, as well as philosophical reasoning behind why many conservatives are pro-life. Furthermore, if the left truly believes these accusations to be true, then shutting them down with logic and intellectual debate should be no problem at all. At the very least, they could use the opportunities to do so to prove to their base, and those who are on the fence, why their ideas are superior. They can’t do any of these things if all they wish to do is shutdown any debate at all.
As a graduating senior, I hope that in the future my conservative classmates feel more open to state their political ideology in classes and therefore have more opportunities to debate peers on the other side of the aisle. That is why I challenge the left movement on this campus. If they truly think their solutions will work, if they truly feel we conservatives are misguided, they should use intellectual debate among peers, professors and speakers on opposite sides of the aisle to actually defend their ideas instead of using catchphrases and profanity to try and shut us down. I challenge them to rise to the occasion of true tolerance, which isn’t forcing someone to affirm your beliefs, but accepting that in a free democratic society, the marketplace of ideas allows us to disagree. When they say, “love trumps hate” I challenge them to mean it and to ask themselves if they truly believe that conservatives really represent “hate.”
This doesn’t mean they can’t vehemently disagree as we vehemently disagree with them. Rather, it simply means coming to the intellectual table with a level of respect worthy of such a prestigious institution of learning. It means coming to a place where the opportunities to bring in speakers, host debates and engage in ideas that cover the full spectrum of American politics are virtually endless. My fear is that the left has truly gone so far as to believe the average conservative doesn’t deserve as much. My hope as a conservative on this campus is that with intellectual debate, the left will realize that we are not all racist, sexist or bigoted. I hope that people on both sides of the aisle will be able to challenge their own biases and assumptions in a way that benefits campus political life and discourse.
Abbie Berringer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.