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It’s a new school year. And on campus, betwixt the studies and the socializing, student politicos are also planning new speaker series and seeking ways to cultivate robust dialogue and debate. For all those conservative students who reside on predominantly left-leaning campuses, this can provide a healthy outlet — a chance to challenge comfortable orthodoxies and explore new ideas. But it can also lead to less healthy behaviors, as students find themselves inviting embarrassing figures whose only intent is to serve as a thumb in the eye of campus bureaucrats and a progressive monoculture.
The problem: While it holds a certain adolescent thrill, the thumb-in-the-eye tack is a counterproductive strategy that fosters an impression that conservatives don’t have anything serious to say. With that in mind, here are three tips for campus conservatives (coauthored by a recently graduated campus conservative, one who was appearing on FOX before she appeared at graduation) on how to do a better job of bringing winning guests to campus.
First, think about purpose. Why do you want to invite this person? What do you hope attendees will take away from the event? Will the speaker be able to say something interesting and informative about policy, politics, or culture? If not, if they’re mostly a talking head or an outrage impresario, ask whether this is really something that’s a good use of your time and energy.
Second, think about the speaker’s credibility. Ask yourself whether a reasonable person will regard your guest as a compelling speaker on the topic. Is the speaker an activist, journalist, scholar, political operative, or public official? Whatever their field, have they shown a record of accomplishment in it? In other words, if they’re a journalist, have they penned serious or influential articles? Can they use data and evidence to articulate principled arguments in a convincing manner?
Third, think about whether the speaker reflects your vision and values. After all, the speaker’s credibility will reflect on yours. Will the speaker say things that make you feel proud to be a conservative? Will they say things that will force reasonable people to question their views and biases? A good test: Imagine someone walking up to you on campus and asking, “Are most conservatives like that?” If you hesitate to say “yes” you may want to reconsider your invitation.
In truth, almost any conservative speaker will be controversial on campus, just because colleges have become progressive redoubts. And conservative students should certainly not shrink from that challenge or strive to placate progressives. (After all, even inviting a speaker to debate the morality of abortion nowadays is unacceptable to some progressives.)
The goal, however, should not be provocation for provocation’s sake — but to educate, challenge, and puncture the left’s lazy orthodoxies. Whether they like the responsibility or not, the liberal collegiate bubble means that campus conservatives have an outsized role to play in determining how so many of their peers understand the meaning of conservatism and the great debates of our time.
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