“Dear conservative students, your viewpoints are important” was all it took to prompt backlash and ridicule on Penn State’s campus.
The phrase was part of a poster for Penn State’s All In diversity and inclusion initiative. Located in the College of Information, the poster listed groups perceived to be discriminated against, including Muslims, Jews, Latinos, LGBTQQIA and international students.
It included phrases such as: “Dear black students, your lives matter,” “Dear Latino students, you will not find walls here” and “Dear LGBTQQIA students, you are supported here.”
The problem? It supported conservative students.
While the poster has been up for a while, some student leaders and campus activists took to Twitter to complain about it in mid-June after a Penn State student tweeted a picture of it with the text “one of these things is not like the other” and the conservative line circled. The student, Tom Sarabok, criticized the idea by adding: “Damn, I must’ve missed the part when conservative people went through hundreds of years of slavery and systematic oppression @penn_state.” It was retweeted 50 times and liked 171 times.
— Tom Sarabok (@ThomasSarabok) June 18, 2018
Sarabok is listed as being involved in the student government and is executive vice president of the College Democrats, his Twitter bio states.
Sarabok’s tweet appears to have prompted something of a fiery Twitter debate, as some student leaders agreed with the sentiments on Twitter while some right-of-center students began to defend the notion that conservatives can be marginalized on campus.
“So I saw this poster around campus last year and that bit about conservative students always bugged me. Not because I think their viewpoints don’t matter, but to pretend like conservative ideology has been oppressed for years is, well, false,” said Adriana Lacy, a recent Penn State graduate who was an active student leader as an undergrad.
That prompted student Kylie Thomas, a member of Young Americans for Liberty, to reply: “I have to disagree on this one. I, along with others, have been shouted down in classrooms. I know of other students who have grade reductions or are completely afraid to express their viewpoints. It is a minority stance on college campuses.”
So I saw this poster around campus last year and that bit about conservative students always bugged me. Not because I think their viewpoints don’t matter, but to pretend like conservative ideology has been oppressed for years is, well, false. https://t.co/GoPyzZYLfV
— Adriana Lacy (@Adriana_Lacy) June 18, 2018
In response, Penn State student government Representative-at-Large Rubi Garcia Manzo responded to Thomas with: “boo hoo, so sad.” Thomas said Representative Garcia said during the Twitter discussion that she stood for the “CORRECT minority,” and when Thomas asked her what she meant by that, she simply didn’t respond.
It seems like a @UPUA rep @Pretty_Rubii doesn’t mind her peers having grade reductions or screamed at for opposing views by professors. What a shame. I expected better from student leaders. pic.twitter.com/CB1UVTWdxV
— Kylie Thomas (@kylie_thomas) June 19, 2018
Penn State’s student government representative, Bhavin Shah, said student government members may share their thoughts and feelings on social media.
“We are not a political organization. Our members are allowed to have their own opinions, but they do not put their political views before their duty to serve all Penn State students. We are here to help all students and are willing to listen to all of their concerns,” he told The College Fix.
Penn State officials did not respond to requests for comment on this issue.
Thomas, however, said the poster is correct, and clearly an important reminder, as evidenced not only by the Twitter thread but also personal experiences in the classroom.
“When a student representative of the University Park Undergraduate Association mocks discrimination of thought on campus, it is evidently directed at the conservative students. As a female Jewish, registered Republican, I [embody] the minority ‘status’ on campus,” she told The College Fix via email.
Thomas then went on to further express her discontent with how she and fellow classmates have been treated because of their views.
“I have seen my fellow peers shouted down in political theory classrooms for their capitalistic viewpoints. I have had my fellow peers tell me about their grades being docked from their papers being ‘too conservative’ or their participation wasn’t how the professor wanted. I myself have stood up to professors on the basis of outdated facts and materials that they were providing to unknowing students,” she said.
When asked about the student government and how well it represents the student body, Thomas responded: “This is a group of irresponsible students that pass legislation without debate or discussion so no one gets offended. There is no representation for conservative voices.”