Police are investigating what motivated three university students to set fire to the Tulane University dorm room door of Peyton Lofton. Lofton, a sophomore at Tulane University in New Orleans, is an officer of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter on campus, as well as a member of Turning Point USA (TPUSA).
There was initial speculation that the arson attempt was politically motivated, although according to Fox News station WVUE in Louisiana, police report that the motive is “not yet clear.”
What is clear is that hostility toward students who don’t conform to the liberal majority consensus on college campuses has been on the rise.
One Class recently asked 1500 college students whether the political climate on campus affected them academically and socially. Of the conservative students polled, less than half said they felt welcome on campus. Just over 10% of them have considered transferring schools because of a political encounter. Over 37% of them admitted to feeling unsafe on campus. And a stunning 55.1% said that they hid their political views from friends. While liberal students also reported difficulties on campus, the numbers are significantly lower. The same poll found that, by contrast, 82.3% of liberal leaning students reported feeling welcome on campus. Less than 5% considered transferring schools because of a political encounter. The percentage of liberal students who reported feeling unsafe was 11.5, and 15.5% reported that they hid their political views from their friends.
In January of this year Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) accused Students for Liberty (SFL) of “climate change denial” and openly demanded that tech giants Google, Facebook, and Microsoft withdraw their support from LibertyCon, the group’s annual event.
In February, on the campus of UC Berkeley, Zachary Greenberg was caught on video punching Hayden Williams in the face because Williams was tabling for the conservative organization Turning Point USA.
Partly in response to the alleged Greenberg assault, President Trump signed an executive order in March making the support of free speech on campus a condition of federal research funding. But as philosophy professor and TAS Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks points out, the implementation of this executive order will likely change with every election: “But history shows that politicians’ controlling education is a worse outcome. In politically authoritarian societies, uniformity and fear replace independent thinking and debate. And in politically democratic societies, political control means that education becomes a football kicked back and forth across the field depending on who won the last election.”
The hostility to conservatism and libertarianism entrenched in public education has been a long time in the making. In her 1970 essay, “The Comprachicos,” Ayn Rand argued that the goal of Progressive education was not that a child learn, but that he adjust to his peer group. Citing John Dewey’s recommendation that education promote in children an “obvious social motive” rather than the “exclusively individual” and selfish attitude of “absorbing facts and truths,” Rand concluded, “The goal of modern education is to stunt, stifle and destroy the students’ capacity to develop such an attitude.” She compared Progressive educators to the comprachicos, a secret society of travelers in the 17th century who bought children, disfigured them, and then sold them as freak-show performers.
By the time a student got to college, the damage was done:
The student activists are the comprachicos’ most successful products: they went obediently along every step of the way, never challenging the basic premises inculcated in the Progressive nursery schools. They act in packs, with the will of the pack as their only guide. The scramble for power among their pack leaders and among different packs does not make them question their premises: they are incapable of questioning anything. So they cling to the belief that mankind can be united into one happily, harmoniously unanimous pack––by force. Brute, physical force is, to them, a natural form of action. (emphasis added)
Brute, physical force is precisely what was used against Lofton in an attempt to set his dorm room door on fire––and while police say there is as yet “no indication” that the attackers set the fire for political reasons, groups like YAL and TPUSA have been targeted for political intimidation on campus.
For example, the social justice group YALexposed has been hanging flyers around the Tulane campus falsely accusing YAL (one of the groups to which Lofton belonged) of being a “racist, misogynistic, and intolerant organization” whose members “use social media to make offensive jokes about autism, sexual assault, 9/11, and slavery while using racist and ableist slurs.”
Moreover, Lofton reported that he had recently been doxxed on account of his membership in conservative and libertarian student groups. Doxxing is a vile social media form of intimidation in which the perpetrators release an individual’s private information online, such as email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, and other social media contact information. Groups to whom the information is released become a lynch mob, rushing to damage the psyche and the reputation of the doxxed individual through harassment, shaming, and threats of violence.
While lip service is still paid to free speech and free inquiry on many college campuses, the reality is much different––a reality I know all too well having taught at a small, midwestern community college. My advice to students: Recognize that you have options, and use them. Explore alternatives like the Great Connections Leap Year Gap Program, sponsored by the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute of Chicago, which can help incoming freshmen, or students who have dropped out of college for political or personal reasons, to clarify their goals and values before they continue in higher ed.
Or, if remaining on campus, shop around at the organization fairs to see what resonates and intrigues. Student groups such as our own Atlas Advocates, and those with which The Atlas Society partners, such as Students for Liberty (SFL), YAL, TPUSA, and others provide tools for critical thinking, a sense of community, and peaceful means of political engagement.
Be rigorous in checking out the credentials and the scholarship of professors before you sign up for a college course. You don’t have to study with a professor if you don’t want to.
And vote with your feet. Don’t trade your time and money for anything less than what is best for you. The best way to counter out of control activism on campus is to enroll somewhere else. Colleges and universities need you more than you need them. Let the administration know that you are rejecting them. It’s time they got the message.