Armed for Battle: 10 Things Every Incoming Conservative Freshman Needs to Know
New high school graduates around the country have collected their diplomas and now turn their attention to preparing for college life. And there’s no shortage of advice available on everything from dorm room decor to picking classes to the dangers of binge drinking. As a long-time conservative and recent college graduate with a little sister now starting in the fall, I have thought long and hard about the facts and advice I wish someone had given me.
No, they aren’t avoid this restaurant, steer clear of x fraternity, or don’t take this general education course. They are basic principles that helped me survive college as a conservative. This is Armed for Battle: a brief course in keeping your sanity for every incoming freshman conservative.
Why is this “course” necessary for you to take? Most college students of our political persuasion would agree that life on campus isn’t always easy – and can even be downright miserable (*cough* University of Colorado at Boulder UC Berkeley American University *cough*). From the obsession with going green, to the obsession with social justice, to the obsession with diversity, to race and sexual orientation hypersensitivity -- you, class of 2016, will drown in a swamp of progressive collectivist nonsense from the first day of orientation to the final commencement speech, no matter your major.
So here’s my list to help you steer the course and make the traditional college experience enjoyable and productive, whether you’re pre-med, a theatre major, or really in the thick of it like I was at the University of Southern California as a political science major.
1. Read Conservative Publications
Knowing what’s going on and how to interpret it is half the battle. While it’s important that you read major newspapers like the Washington Post, USA Today, or the Los Angeles Times, you should also absorb conservative commentary on what’s happening. I considered myself a conservative throughout college, but I can’t tell you how many times I gained a valuable new perspective from reading a column by Jonah Goldberg or Victor Davis Hanson. National Review is one of the leading conservative publications around and well worth a subscription, as is The Weekly Standard. The Late Andrew Breitbart’s websites are also excellent for learning about leftist hypocrisy.
2. Know Your History – of Conservatism
Critical to defending conservatism in universities is understanding who the fathers of intellectual conservatism are, and what they advocated. I don’t mean the political pundits like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. I mean academics. You will read Karl Marx or Jean-Jacques Rousseau in at least one of your classes (even if it’s a general education requirement), but you probably won’t read Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Frank S. Meyer, or even beacon of Objectivist thought Ayn Rand. In fact, you almost certainly will not read any Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, or Thomas Sowell -- and that’s truly a travesty!
Read them on your own anyway.
It will make a difference in class discussions, it will help you write your papers, and it will help you understand the foundations of conservative thought.
3. Finding Allies: College Republicans
Even if you’re not interested in ever having a career in politics, it’s good to have a few people you know who support you ideologically. There are over 1,800 College Republican chapters within the College Republican National Committee (CRNC), and they are an incredible resource nationally and locally. Joining College Republicans can involve as small a commitment as simply attending a few meetings to hear a speaker and grab a snack, or a deep commitment to getting involved with campaigns and going to the CRNC convention.
What if you’re going to a school that doesn’t have a chapter? Start one! I guarantee there are other conservatives on your campus who can join you -- and you will build your resume by demonstrating your ability to take the initiative for a cause you believe in.
4. Critical Thought: Uncommon Knowledge
One of my favorite things to do online when I’m not using Stumble Upon, laughing at YouTube videos, or catching up on Mad Men, is to watch Uncommon Knowledge, the weekly webcast (formerly television show) created by the Hoover Institution and hosted by Peter Robinson. They bring the biggest names in the business to speak about their ideas (from the left and right), and it’s a great way to learn about the modern day intellectual greats in the conservative movement and what they believe. It’s also a useful tool for learning how to deconstruct the arguments of the academic left without having to wade through their latest 45-page article. After all, we college students like to take the easy route, right?
Watch one of the best episodes with Thomas Sowell above.
5. Taking Action: the Not-Always-Fun Stuff
Obviously this one will appeal much more to students who are interested in political fields, but one of the best ways to make friends and network is volunteering on campaigns. Many conservatives will go to a College Republican meeting and perhaps one or two big events, but never take it any further. This is a crying shame. When an opportunity comes up for a precinct walk or a campaign deployment -- take it. When there is a phone bank for a local Republican candidate and they need students to help -- go. If you can afford it -- take that unpaid internship. When your state party has their convention -- attend.
Take every opportunity that comes your way, even if it isn’t always boatloads of fun, because the people you meet and the friendships you build from those experiences are fun, and may just land you a job one day.
6. Expanding Allies
Once you’re involved, don’t stop there. Most campuses have many student organizations that on various issues have an interest that aligns closely with conservatives. Befriend them. Students for Life, Students for Israel, Business Groups, Ethnic/Cultural Groups, Religious Groups -- whatever your sub-interest is within the conservative sphere, there are groups that will have people with similar ideas and will work with your College Republican club. Alternatively, if you’re a business major who happens to be a conservative, join their club and work with the Republicans to put on an event together. On a hostile campus, this is especially important because the more organizations that work with you, the more people understand that Hey, wait, Republicans aren’t racist war-mongers like so many in the media have led us to believe! Win-win.
7. Making It Your Own: Ricochet
Another gem of the conservative movement is the interactive website edited by Peter Robinson (see number 4), Ricochet.com. Ricochet, which bases its monthly membership fee off the cost of a Starbucks grande latte, says on its site, “For the cost of a few minutes of tasty liquid stimulation, you get a whole month of mental stimulation that doesn't give you the shakes.”
Even as a coffee lover, I have to agree. On Ricochet, you can converse and interact with other conservative members and publish your own thoughts to begin new conversations. This is a great place to start writing and discussing conservative issues with other likeminded folks -- an entry-level to blogging, if you’re so inclined. Ricochet also has some of the best podcasts on conservative thought today.
8. Explaining Your Beliefs in an Academic Sphere: Scholarly Sources
One thing I wish I’d discovered earlier is how to use conservative sources in academic papers. Most university library systems are set up to help students find journals and books through search engines like JSTOR, Homer, ProQuest, etc., and I remember writing papers as a freshman only to grow frustrated because it would take hours and hours waging through leftist sludge before finding one scholarly source that I could use to support my position.
Fortunately, I soon discovered the beauty of the American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Hoover Institution, The Cato Institute, etc. All of these conservative or libertarian think tanks are fantastic resources for academic papers and many have them published (or at the very least referenced) on their websites. When you argue against the books you’re assigned to read as I so frequently did in college, these think tanks will back you up.
9. Exerting Influence: Infiltrate Student Government
If you’re a conservative on campus, I urge you to run for a student government. If the majority of regular non-academic folks knew some of the absurd “bills” that go through, they would drop dead of shock. Student government gives you an opportunity to not only exert influence on your peers and fellow leaders, but to hold a position in the student government that another leftist student will not have. Another win-win!
The unfortunate fact is that student governments are almost invariably very leftist and this affects the overall climate of a university. Being a part of the student government as a conservative also provides a check on the actions of that majority. You may very well be the only conservative member of a student government, so it’s up to you to blow the whistle if the student government is giving more funding to the College Democrats or consistently denying the College Republicans funding requests.
10. Let No Ignorant Statement Go Unchallenged: Be Brave
Even if you’re not an expert on the issue at hand and even if you don’t know all the answers -- if you speak up in a 150-person class, chances are someone else will agree with you. I can’t tell you how many times I was the first student in class to argue with a reading or professor’s statement and as soon as I spoke up, a half dozen other students chimed in agreeing with me. Note that these slightly more timid people would never have said anything otherwise. I didn’t understand this until I was a senior, but students, especially freshmen and sophomores, need to know that it’s acceptable to call people out on their biases and leftist statements.
However, while it’s necessary to speak up, try never to show hostility. I’ve found it’s always best to frame things in the form of a question. For example:
I understand why one might think banning cookies in school lunches seems like a positive health choice, but have you ever thought about how it undermines your ability to choose for your own family? Why do you need the government to make these decisions for you?
Nearly every time students were unable to respond, simply because the questions introduced a point of view they’d never even considered.
The purpose of a liberal arts education university is to learn how to think critically. So help yourself, and help others at the same time (guided self-interest…we are conservatives after all) by being a conservative on campus.
It won’t always be easy, but after your college experience I guarantee you will be ten times as prepared to defend your beliefs as just about any progressive (who will never have his beliefs questioned while in school – except, of course, by you). You may be mocked or even graded unfairly (Challenge Them!), but if you are able to defend conservative principles you will have grown in a way you never could have imagined.
Good luck and remember that if no one stands up in academia for conservatism, fewer people will wind up understanding our principles on graduation day. We are the defenders of freedom, and as Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”