No political columnists, unless they’re left-wingers
When I first arrived at Boston College as a rosy-eyed freshman, I was interested in politics and journalism, and I wanted to join both the College Republicans and the school newspaper, The Heights.
I am a conservative (economic and social, I always clarify), and have been ever since I first decided not to simply believe what my teachers pontificated but rather to think for myself—a classically liberal virtue, needless to say.
I had heard The Heights was (unsurprisingly) left-leaning, and it was. But I was pleasantly surprised when in October 2015 it published a letter to the editor I wrote criticizing the paper for a biased story about Ta-Nehisi Coates.
My letter drew ad hominem attacks, vulgar language, and physical threats from my peers, but not from the newspaper staff themselves.
In The Heights’ comment section, I was called “ignorant,” “a lost cause in matters of human decency,” “stupid,” “racist,” “bigoted,” “privileged,” “goddam blinded,” “hateful,” “a piece of shit,” and a whole number of even nastier terms. One person wrote, “…you should feel bad for who you are…” and “…watch your back whenever you leave your cozy Gonzaga [my residence hall at the time].”
There was a response-letter that mocked my writing style (“The Only Race We Should Be Talking About is NASCAR”) and one that accused me of not being a true Christian (“An Alum Addresses Salzmann’s Letter on Coates Coverage”). My friends informed me that the reaction was even worse on social media, from which I was happy to keep away.
Despite this vitriol, I found it refreshing to take on the leftist groupthink that has a vice grip on campus. I applied and was accepted to be a political columnist in my sophomore year, a conservative voice at a liberal newspaper.
That year I wrote about the meaning of conservatism, emphasizing its history and especially its significance in the 2016 election in several pieces, including “What is a Conservative?” “The Future of the GOP” and “Conservatism After Trump’s Win.”
My vociferous group of revolutionary peers often pounced on my every word, and I ceaselessly argued with my editor.
I did not have the easiest experience that year—swimming upstream is always difficult, and swimming against a torrent of progressivism is one of the most challenging political tasks of all—but it was educational and interesting, and at the very least I was able to challenge the status quo and provide another viewpoint.
But something changed when I attempted to apply for a columnist spot earlier this school year. I noticed some words in small print in the application, to the effect that political columnists need not apply: columns could only apply to matters connected directly with Boston College.
I was surprised, but in a way it makes sense as The Heights is, of course, the Boston College undergraduate newspaper. I thought the campus paper would not want the brouhaha that occurred when I wrote letters to the editor and, later, columns. I decided to respect and honor their decision.
Until I realized that was not the decision The Heights had made.
When the first edition came out this year, I noticed a highly political piece by a Heights columnist named Joshua Behrens, a self-styled socialist agitator who last year wrote panegyrics for Sen. Bernie Sanders and declared that we need a revolution in the streets.
There were other Heights columnists who wrote very political pieces—about global warming and LGBT issues that had little to do with Boston College—but Behrens’ was the most political and least connected to Boston College. Indeed, he did not mention the school even once, focusing instead on criticizing the “alt-right.” The Heights could not claim, then, that Behrens was writing apolitical columns—to the contrary, in fact.
This double standard—no political columnists, unless they’re left-wingers—was clear and worrisome, and I wrote a letter to the editor of The Heights expressing my concerns.
In a rocky e-mail exchange with The Heights opinions editor, I was informed that my piece would not be printed because it “contained factual errors”—i.e., that I claimed The Heights was biased.
That is a shocking claim—the paper, claiming it is unbiased, refuses out-of-hand to print a letter that accuses it of bias. The editor’s justification, by the way, was that (1) Behrens and friends were writing apolitical pieces connected to Boston College (an argument swiftly dropped when I linked to Behrens’ piece) and (2) that The Heights had a conservative columnist, so it just couldn’t be biased.
Leaving aside the irrelevance of the last claim, I read the “conservative columnist’s” pieces and found that he was writing about religious issues (e.g., “the value of Catholic education”) that had nothing do with politics—while Behrens and other leftists were allowed to advocate for the social justice issue du jour.
When the opinions editor denied my letter, in whole or in part, I called the editor-in-chief, who never returned my call but sent me an e-mail supporting his opinions editor—not surprising, but still disappointing.
I was—to use a word that is in vogue with the left nowadays—silenced, inasmuch as no one outside friends and the two Heights editors would ever know I’d written this piece, or about the newspaper’s ludicrous double-standard.
Such is the challenge that faces every conservative student nowadays—to speak up and be shut down (by administrators, professors, fellow students, all in charge) or not to speak at all. I have chosen the former from the beginning because I believe it is, quite simply, the right thing to do, one’s duty if one believes in what one is saying.
We are currently in a scary place for free speech and free expression on college campuses, but we must let in light and show the kinds of nasty vituperations for what they are. I have no problem with The Heights giving Josh Behrens and other left-wingers a place to write their opinions. I do have a problem, however, with a newspaper that will hire liberals but not conservatives, attempts to cover it up, and refuses to publish a denunciation of the cover-up. That, while sadly common nowadays on college campuses, is truly shameful, and scary.