All posts by Sophie Mann

Sophie Mann is a freshman at Scripps College, hoping to major in economics and government. She hails from New York City and when she’s not interjecting her aggressive, yet sound opinion into political discussions on campus, you can find her spinning away at Soulcycle (or the Scripps Gym), spending a questionable amount of money at Trader Joe’s, or attending the bi-weekly meetings of the vast right wing conspiracy (invite only).

In Defense of the CMC Government Department

On January 30, the Forum, the official campus news bulletin of Claremont McKenna College (CMC), published an article criticizing the government department at CMC for lacking a sufficiently diverse body of professors. “In particular, students at CMC have voiced concerns about the problems with the program’s practical applicability and diversity, both in the composition of the faculty and in the courses offered,” the article states, going on to cite the department’s “homogeneity” as one of the main reasons for the school’s decade-long decline in the share of students majoring in government.

In reality, a lack of diversity (or a perceived lack thereof) is almost certainly not to blame for declining enrollment in government courses at CMC. In fact, the government faculty’s intellectual diversity is an enduring strength found at very few other American educational institutions. Declining interest in fields like government and the humanities more likely reflects a general trend of students looking to gain a more practical skill set in college, one that will serve them well in the job market. This trend also helps explain the increasing interest in STEM, economics, and other career-oriented fields of study.

But even if we put these facts aside, the accusation that the department lacks meaningful diversity is false. The diversity that matters in an academic setting is that of opinion, and by this measure, CMC’s government department is one of the most diverse in the nation. Learning the historical and ideological contexts of political systems and schools of thought, from a range of viewpoints, is fundamental in order to analyze and predict political trends with any degree of competency.

What the department may lack is the surface-level brand of diversity that is so uniformly and falsely peddled by campus leftists as being the only legitimate kind. Despite the merits of the faculty, the Forum reports that students are primarily concerned by one thing: “the biggest downside of the department…has been that the professors tend to be primarily white men.” But the fact remains that we came to college to learn, and learning is not contingent upon the skin color or gender of our professors. Assessing the value of what someone has to say based on his/her appearance or cultural background betrays shallowness at best and bigotry at worst.

Education is about people’s minds, not their ethnicities. And as the Forum article admits, one of the most impressive facets of the CMC government department is the impressive caliber of its individual members. Professor Charles Kesler, who is the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, published what turned out to be perhaps the single most influential conservative essay of the entire 2016 election cycle, “The Flight 93 Election.” Yet, the Forum labels the majority of the department as “products of times with different priorities,” flippantly dismissing the knowledge of these professors and their willingness to share it.

The range of views within the government department—from liberal to conservative and everything in between—is undoubtedly an asset to the department, as department chair Andrew Busch has said, and it is one of the main reasons the program and major gained national prominence in the first place. CMC’s government major has long been lauded as one of the few in the country where students are able to learn about liberal and conservative ideology and political movements from several distinct perspectives. An academic department that imparts ideological positions from all across the political spectrum is rare and useful, and should be protected.

At this moment, it is more important than ever for students to familiarize themselves with conservative ideas. The November election swept Republican politicians to power at the local, state, and federal levels. Knowing something about the foundational values of the Right will be especially valuable over the next few years to those who wish to work in real world politics. In this pivotal moment, it is strange to ask one of the nation’s premier government departments to become more like all of the rest in order to regain its unique excellence.

Making significant structural changes to the government department and its hiring practices in order to satisfy a superficial vision of diversity would diminish the merit of the department and the quality of the major. An academic department must hire professors based solely on their credentials, achievements, and abilities in order to provide students with the best faculty available. The Forum is wrong: the age, race, and gender of the present government faculty says nothing of their capacity to educate students in the fine art of politics.


Photo: Victoire Chalupe/Wikipedia

Ted Cruz is Not An ‘American Hero’

In his speech to the Republican National Convention, Texas Senator Ted Cruz delivered a much-needed refresher course on his party’s values: liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and the right of citizens to keep more of what they earn. And yet, after he outlined the reasons why a Republican needs to win, Cruz declined to support his party’s nominee, declaring that Republicans should “vote their consciences” in November rather than throw their support to Donald J. Trump. His statement was met with the deafening boos of an arena full of grassroots conservatives. Cruz’s words were not meant to encourage the GOP to support Trump in November; they were a betrayal, a clear nod to the failed #NeverTrump movement.

Sticking to your principles is admirable. Not endorsing someone who violates them also deserves praise. But refusing to endorse the nominee in a prime time speech at the convention looked petty. If Cruz did not wish to compromise his principles, he should have stayed home—like several of his fellow ex-candidates—and accepted the consequences of remaining on the sidelines.

The problem is, Cruz’s reasons for not endorsing Donald Trump were unrelated to principle. In an address the next morning to the dismayed Texas delegation, Cruz defended his non-endorsement by saying that he is “not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father.” This argument—legitimate though it may be—cheapened Cruz’s statement of principle the previous night.

Ted Cruz’s convention speech was drafted out of personal pique, not out of fidelity to principle. Failing to endorse the nominee because of a personal insult completely undermines Cruz’s claim that his dedication to conservative principles—principles which Trump will better serve as commander-in-chief than will Clinton—is what is stopping him from endorsing Trump’s candidacy.

Trump should have apologized for the ridiculous things he said about Cruz and his family during the primaries. But Cruz should have moved past the personal insults for the sake of party unity. Cruz’s critique of Hillary Clinton —and his affirmation of conservative principles—was compelling enough to justify an endorsement of just about any Republican, even Donald Trump.

Furthermore, Cruz’s action worked to undermine any long term benefit Cruz might have gotten by putting principle above party. Betting that Trump will either lose or be a failed one-term president, Cruz was trying to set himself up for a 2020 run, just as Ronald Reagan did following his loss of the nomination to President Gerald Ford at the brokered convention of 1976.

The key difference between these two situations is that Cruz did not lose at the convention, and the image of party unity is important—it’s the main reason the leadership tries to avoid brokered conventions in general. So Cruz, not possessing the same precedent (or charm) as Ronald Reagan, outed himself as a political opportunist. As Charles Krauthammer put it, “What Cruz delivered was the longest suicide note in American political history.”

Already, there are rumors of primary challenges ahead for Cruz. On Tuesday, Joaquin Castro, one of the liberal Castro brothers, announced that he would be looking to run for Cruz’s seat. Donors angry about Cruz’s self-serving stand at the convention may not be willing to step in to help him dispatch these threats.

The delegates, the Trump campaign, and the RNC were livid with Cruz’s performance, but the #NeverTrumpers were thrilled. The D.C. insiders and intellectuals who find Trump unacceptable hailed Cruz as an “American Hero.” Leaders of the movement tweeted their approval and offered to back him in a third party run.

Those leaders had their chance to support him, of course, when he was in second place against Trump, and their support could have led to a different outcome. But he was ‘too religious’ or otherwise unattractive for them when it mattered. People who had never even considered voting for Cruz in the primary suddenly applauded his “principled” stand against Trump and the GOP establishment.

Cruz came off as a sore loser, not a statesman. By allowing his animosity toward Trump to guide his convention address, the Texas senator sold his party short—and his career even shorter.

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Image: Flickr

Political Correctness is Destroying Feminism

A few days ago, I awoke to a mass email from Minjoo Kim, the student body president at Scripps College, condemning a “racist incident” that had taken place the night before. The incident in question? A Mexican-American Scripps student had awoken to find the words “#trump2016” written on the whiteboard on her door. The email claimed that the student was targeted because of her race and described the Trump presidential slogan—nay, hashtag—as an act of violence, and a “testament that racism continues to be an undeniable problem and alarming threat on our campuses.” This email was followed shortly by a message from our Dean of Students, Charlotte Johnson, chastising those students who believed that Kim’s email had been an overreaction to the incident. Johnson pointed out that Scripps (in theory) respects the First Amendment rights of its students and community members, but that in this case, the “circumstances are unique.”

Since the same sort of thing happened a week earlier at Emory University, with great cries of racism and threats against students who advocate for particular presidential candidates, it seems that there may be a special, more flexible version of the First Amendment for college administrators.

Scripps’ need to constantly respond to hurt feelings and incidences of racism—whether real or imaginary—meant that residents of the dorm where this happened had to go to a mandatory meeting in which Resident Advisors gave out instructions on how to behave if you see something offensive written on a student’s whiteboard. We were told that if we see something “offensive,” we should not erase it; that would be like pretending it never happened. Instead, we’re supposed to take a paper towel and tape it over the offensive message so that others walking down the hall need not be affected (see: triggered) by the message, then report it. Indeed the student who experienced this “act of racism” did not simply erase the whiteboard drawing and move on with her day, she wrote a notice calling attention to her status as a victim, hung it next to the #trump2016 message and posted it on Facebook. The takeaway? At a college for independent women, victimhood bequeaths status. But that’s nothing new.

For the past few evenings I have been taking part in an immensely detailed congressional simulation, for a government class at neighboring Claremont McKenna College. For this exercise we are simulating a congressional session taking place during the first year of a Donald J. Trump presidency. The simulation has been labor intensive, extremely informative for the students participating, and lots of fun. It plagues me to think that there are students on my campus who would not only be uncomfortable with the simulation, but deeply offended. How is it possible to teach politics and government in an atmosphere like this? How will my classmates survive the upcoming California primary?

Personally, I am a Cruz supporter. I’m just as perturbed as the next person that Donald Trump is a legitimate candidate for President of the United States. But he is just that, a legitimate candidate. Seeing his name (or a dopey political slogan) should not be enough to send an intelligent college student running for her safe space in tears. Scripps, like most women’s colleges, claims to pride itself on educating and shaping women to bravely go out and face a tough world. Does administrative coddling of behavior like this not devalue the Scripps brand? Surely I cannot be alone in believing this event is an embarrassment, and hopefully not representative of the institution as a whole. I would hate to see my school become another nutty, culturally Marxist institution, pushing this bizarrely weak, fainting couch, victim-feminism. Bizarre and coddled reactions like these legitimize the campaign of someone like Donald J. Trump.

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Image Source: Flickr

Only Some May Be Heard

“We need to be less afraid of being called racists, classists, and ableists, and more afraid of actually being those things,” lamented one student at Scripps College’s BeHeard Forum. The subject we had gathered to discuss was Silencing and Tone Policing – two phrases I had never heard until the week prior, when several Facebook comment wars exploded over supposed racialized and transphobic event titles, descriptions, and surveys. People’s actions and intentions soon became irrelevant because only language, and those who got to wield it, mattered.

Such encounters do not come as a surprise. We live in a time when extreme political correctness and campus movements – started mostly by minority students in an effort to silence any speech that they find hurtful or offensive – are raging across the country. The BeHeard Forum, intended to be a forum for resolving differences, quickly became an opportunity for people identifying as “victims” to complain about their pain and suffering while stifling constructive discourse concerning what constitutes appropriate campus debate. The forum highlighted the desire of some campus groups to ensure that those individuals with whom they disagree not be heard at all.

This particular forum was held in response to a Scripps Voice poll. The writer asked, “Are you aware of any Scripps stereotypes? Do they affect you?” The stereotypes in question essentially boil down to “promiscuous student” or “earnest feminist.” Somehow, this too became an issue of race when students began questioning if “fitting in” to a Scripps stereotype meant belonging to a certain race.

And then there was the outrage over a feminist event which served cupcakes decorated with vulvas, at which a former employee of the Queer Resource Center became incensed, stating, “How dare you associate vulvas with being a woman. I feel so violated.” Despite apologies from the event organizer, the conversation devolved into accusations of insensitivity towards trans women.

Tone policing is defined as the process in which a white or otherwise “privileged” person focuses on how something is being said, particularly when it is driven by anger or other heightened emotions. Silencing is when a member of a “victim class” does not feel safe enough to speak because another person – typically an authority figure or a white classmate – imposes a status or set of assumptions which the victim does not share. For example, if a straight person casually asks a classmate, “Are you interested in any guys?” the speaker has made an assumption about someone’s sexual identity that may or may not be accurate. This assumption, victims argue, silences the other person, even though the bisexual or lesbian classmate could just say something like “I’m interested in girls” to clear up any confusion.

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Both silencing and tone policing occur mostly on social media and in classrooms. They typically happen when a person of color (POC) “calls out” a white person for saying something “racially inappropriate.” The POC then proceeds to scold the person for saying something that is deemed both incorrect and offensive to not only the person individually, but also the entire group the person represents. This accusation runs counter to the idea that a single person of a particular ethnic or racial group should not be assumed to be the voice of or the same as all other persons from that group.

So what happens when someone is actually called out? According to the group at the BeHeard Forum, an ideal response from the person who is being called out would be for that person to apologize, thank the person who has called her out for taking time out of her day to do so, which must have been hard to do because of the “wall of silence the offender has put up,” and then research how to improve her thinking. In this “conversation,” there is never any room for a defense from the accused. Should the allegedly insensitive student attempt to explain her intent, it will only be interpreted as further “verbal violence.”

Without knowing it, these aggrieved students have actually replicated the same type of forced apologies and self-abasement pioneered by hard line Maoists, in the infamous re-education camps of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. That process was invented to suppress any type of intellectual dissent.

Forcing an individual to apologize and then express gratitude to the person for calling her out is a violation of our academic and social codes of allowing students to act and speak freely. I asked if perhaps this was a tall order. I asked if some focus should be placed on the ways in which people are called out. Unsurprisingly, I was quickly shut down. A fellow student responded that she felt entirely comfortable calling out offenders on their privilege, publicly ridiculing them on social media outlets, and making them feel uncomfortable and attacked if it ultimately helps them to “become better.”

One thing that was clear was that facts were entirely irrelevant in the discussion of offensive speech. One student explained, “In this case, feelings are facts.” But, of course, feelings are not facts, nor will they ever be facts. You can debate facts. Feelings, in these cases, are just weapons. Not allowing someone to defend herself because you deem your feelings superior to that person’s ability to speak freely is selfish. Nowhere in this process is there room for conflicting opinions on any level, which is an intellectual travesty, especially at a liberal arts college.

This forum was a discouraging experience. I watched other students pat one another on the back for finding and taking down bits and pieces of racism that simply did not exist, while being outwardly hostile and rude to their classmates. On college campuses today, tone policing and silencing are one-way streets. Only “privileged” students can commit speech crimes. All of the victims are people of color, LGTBQ*, or those who feel oppressed in some manner.
The moral absolutism that so many of the offended students believed in was dismaying. As was the contempt for the value of free speech, without which there is no possibility of reaching a genuine understanding or meaningful co-existence in our community. Unfortunately, this self-indulgent distortion of basic academic and social freedoms seems all too common on American college campuses.

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Image: Flickr

Why Malott Matters

Since 2005, a committee composed of several faculty members, alumnae, and students has met every spring to begin work on selecting a conservative speaker to invite to Scripps for the following year. All of this is made possible by the generosity and drive of Elizabeth Hubert Malott (Class of 1953 and Trustee from 1996-2003). Mrs. Hubert Malott cherished her time at Scripps and valued above all else the new ideas, philosophies, and horizons that she was exposed to during her four years at the college. According to her daughter, Liza Malott Pohle, Mrs. Malott’s vision for the conservative speaker series was, “facilitating informed debate, inspiring curiosity and intellectual inquiry, and offering students opportunities to explore topics of national and international interest with visiting speakers offering conservative points of view.”

The committee meticulously plans a rigorous schedule of events for each guest to participate in while spending time at Scripps and the other 5Cs. The Malott series is unique among college speaker programs because it engages each guest in a full day of activities and functions: the honored speaker takes a full tour of the campus and engages in a small group discussion with hand-selected students who are familiar with the speaker’s work. Additionally, the speaker gives a public address in the evening and then attends a reception dinner with student leaders. Previous speakers in the series have included political strategist Mary Matalin (2006), New York Times columnist David Brooks (2011), actor, writer, and conservative pundit Ben Stein (2012), and world-renowned syndicated columnist and author Charles Krauthammer (2013). Peggy Noonan, a conservative speechwriter under the Reagan administration, spoke last year. The speakers consistently walk away from their experiences on campus impressed and hopeful for the future of our undergraduates. For the past few years, the Malott Public Affairs Program has focused on bringing young women to campus in an effort to further inspire the Scripps community from a conservative perspective.

The importance of such a campus speaker series as the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program has never been clearer. As student bodies across the United States become progressively more liberal with every passing admissions cycle, it is crucial that active conservative pundits, be they journalists, politicians, authors, or strategists, continue to make appearances on campuses. They offer a perspective and experience that differs dramatically from the ubiquitous liberal dialogue of the American higher education system. A 2012 poll showed that only 10 percent of college professors identified as conservative (and this number is dropping) and 0.4 percent identified as “far right.” By contrast, 50 percent of college professors identified as liberal and 15 percent identified as “far left.” With a clear lack of conservative thought taught at colleges today—let alone small liberal arts colleges in Southern California—there has never been a more important time for students to be educated across party lines. Even if the students in question ultimately decide to disagree with the opinions of the speakers, it is important that students have an opportunity to hear all sides of the story directly from the source—which too often they do not.

During my time at Scripps so far, I have been exposed almost exclusively to points of view that range from leftist to so leftist that they make Southern California look conservative. I have only been assigned readings by Ward Churchill, Amy Hollywood, Angela Davis, Howard Zinn, and others like them. There is hardly room for Alexis de Tocqueville, let alone Russell Kirk and Ayn Rand. In my introductory classes, I am not only expected to align with the extremely liberal views of all of my Professors, but also to go about defending these views furiously in written assignments, lest I be graded down for complacency. My experience with Core I is a good example of a course where the extremely linear dialogue taught by my professor offered no space for disagreement from students. I maintain that, though it masquerades in the course catalogue as a class that teaches “critical thinking,” in reality it is anything but that. This semester, I am having a somewhat similar experience in my seminar class on Gender and Religion at Pomona. The extremely ‘academic’ dialogue I’ve been offered provides notions about gender as we know it being entirely molded by society, and the ‘West’ acting as the ultimate evil colonizer of the world. There is no room for disagreement with the likes of the renowned Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies scholars within the world of modern day academia.

Although at times the institution-wide attack on conservatism (in class, in guest-lectures, in the divestment movements across all the campuses) that I have experienced since beginning college has been hostile and disheartening, in reality it has encouraged me to strengthen my own depth of knowledge with regard to my personal beliefs. For all of my beliefs that fall toward a more centrist, or leftist political stance, I am applauded and encouraged. For my other opinions, I have been given the really unique opportunity to think about them more critically than I ever have before. As someone who has lived her entire life aware of the conservative political perspective and some of what it might entail, when I walk out of classes I know that there is always another side of the story worth pursuing. Only after hearing every available perspective do I feel informed enough to formulate an opinion of my own—surprise, most days I am still a conservative. My point, however, is that as young minds we are entitled to the autonomy that is required to decipher for ourselves our own opinions—something that Claremont takes away from us by presenting only one half of the available dialogue.

Ultimately, the problem with having such a one-sided academic environment on our campuses is that students, whether liberal, conservative, or anywhere in the middle are simply not being given the full story on any political matter. I implore liberal-minded students to attend Mrs. Bush’s talk to listen to opinions that differ from their own. Political discussion and debate are an integral part of any classroom environment. But first, students must be at least somewhat informed about both perspectives. By way of the Malott Speaker Series, Scripps presents the conservative side of the debate to the public. It is undoubtedly a valuable experience—every now and again—to hear an eloquently articulated opinion that is not your own, in an effort to stay as fully informed and cognizant as possible.

The Rotten Core of Scripps’ “Core I”

The required Core I class at Scripps College is marketed both to current and prospective students as a course in “interdisciplinary learning,” promising to teach the bright young women who walk through Scripps’ gates how to think critically. As both citizens in a complex world and women grappling with future career demands, the ability to think critically about the information and many hidden agendas we face is one of the most crucial skills to learn in college. Sadly, in reality, Core I is only a vehicle for promoting an ideological agenda.

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Time to break out the hammer and chisel? Or the hammer and sickle?

According to the description on the Scripps College website, the Core Curriculum’s goal is to “expose students to some of the major concepts and dialogues shaping modern intellectual thought and challenge them to investigate and debate those issues by drawing from multiple perspectives.” This could not be further from the truth. Instead of exposing students to “multiple perspectives” on contentious and important issues, 250 Scripps first years are bombarded on a weekly basis with radically progressive ideological indoctrination by professors who allow very little room for opinions that differ from mainstream liberal thought, lest one be accused of “marginalization” or labeled a “bigot.

Scripps' Core I, Rotten to the Core
Scripps’ Core I, Rotten to the Core

The course, generally made up of one lecture and two hour-long discussions per week, has thus far covered the topics of American slavery, the seizure of America from the Native Americans, a criticism of the American prison system focusing predominantly on how the system oppresses women and racial minorities, and a sexually graphic novel by Jean Genet entitled The Thief’s Journal.

One semester isn’t enough time to study these litanies of oppression in any real depth. As a result, we have been lectured only about the (obvious) injustices inherent in these actions and institutions. Not once have we examined statistics or economic analysis, or the complexities inherent in the historical context of even one of these topics. Instead, our professors have presented us with narrow criticisms of the vast majority of “structures of oppression” that they believe keep the first world running, and the rest of the globe oppressed. These watered down Marxist clichés may be worth hearing, but if the goal of a Scripps education is to produce intellectually sophisticated citizens, it would perhaps be worth hearing competing theories, like those held by at least half of Americans, too. In my Core discussion class, our highly emotional discussions have primarily focused on the claim that students who are white, and presumed to be wealthy, need to learn to “check their privilege.”

I attended a BeHeard forum at Scripps on the subject of “Marginalization on Campus” following the difficult conversations occurring in the Core I discussions. I went to raise the question of how a student with politically conservative views can participate in a Core discussion without immediately being attacked by the student body and professor. When asked how to combat some of the uncomfortable conversations going on in the Core I discussions, one student said that she believed most of the tension was stemming from “students being confronted with their privilege in a way that’s uncomfortable.” She went on to say that she felt totally okay with students feeling uncomfortable and picked on in class as long as they were the “rich, white students” because they have never felt oppressed before.

By her definition, it seems that the goal of Core I is not interdisciplinary learning or critical thinking, but instead some kind of twisted revenge fantasy where students who are assumed to have never encountered any kind of hardship are put in situations where they feel “oppressed, marginalized, uncomfortable, and violated.” In what world, I wonder, is a classroom fueled by such resentment and hostility toward a certain demographic of students conducive to an effective, let alone healthy, learning environment?

Later in this same forum, I asked how a student who has a different opinion about the merits and virtues of a particular “system of oppression,” such as capitalism or the American prison system, could respectfully express a different opinion. How can students with views that don’t share the liberal premises of the curriculum or professor be given a fair chance to express their opinions when it is instantly assumed that they are not just misguided, but actively perpetuate racism, sexism, and classism? My question was met by the inquiry of another student, who asked if I was saying “that I did not support equality” – apparently unaware of the comment’s irony. The student went on to assert that the discomfort I feel in a hostile classroom setting is not actually related to the suppression and distortion of political disagreement with the curriculum, but, rather, to my white guilt of having to confront my presumed privileges.

My argument had not just been dismissed as oppressive, but also irrelevant and unworthy of a thoughtful response, because it was actually just a manifestation of the guilt that I am supposed to feel in encountering such texts. When students can no longer see the difference between disagreements born out of reason and those born out of malice, they must believe that there is only one correct opinion – namely, theirs. And if having an opinion other than the correct one is oppressive, as is taught in Core I, then Core I is not so much about students critically examining their own thoughts and ideas, but instead about making sure everyone conforms to the same progressive ideology. Students are encouraged to verbally attack those who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility, the pillars of thought upon which this country was built. It is clear in the Core I Curriculum that, while race, class, and gender marginalization are condemned, ideological marginalization is not only fair game, but encouraged.