The Dickinsonian

The Problem with the Political Parity Debate

Kevin Ssonko ’20, Opinion Columnist

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It has become quite a habit of mine to pay attention to the popular intellectual discourse. It seems from my interpretation in our times the common discourse is one in the distribution of power much more so than the distribution of justice. It appears that the primary concern of people is control of the narrative rather than which narrative best reflects the principles of justice. In no place can this be best understood than in the way that we talk about political parity in college campuses. It seems in this debate, we have spent most of our time debating power rather than justice.

To be an engaged student at Dickinson is partly to be very aware of the left-leaning culture of our campus at least at the superficial sense. This is definitely not a school where political conservatism dominates the common discourse. Because of this, it is often said by conservative students that they face quite a bit of backlash from students because of the feelings of isolation and at times violence from their peers. Whether this be their support for the current President, or their feelings on a number of social issues. From my understanding of the issue all these students request is an environment where their opinions are taken seriously by professors and where they are not faced with social exile from the student population. They want professors that have conservative views along with the professors who have liberal views. They don’t want to be called “bigots” for believing that abortion is murder and that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry, and that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization. All these requests are quite reasonable. There is no reason why someone’s political opinion should cost them their safety or their social standing. All it is, is an opinion. Right?

But what do we mean by political parity and what do they mean by conservative views? Are we referring to economic conservatism or social conservatism? What do these students really mean when they talk about creating a campus environment of political equity? Now I do not suggest that the voices of conservative students be quelled. In fact, I strongly oppose this. I believe that Dickinson should have conservative speakers, professors, and pretty much anything that will diversify the conversation. But the thing that I find intriguing is this sense of victimization I interpret to be active in the whole debate of political parity at Dickinson. It seems almost too timely that every time it seems that our culture starts to take seriously the voices of the marginalized, there is a call to stop the progress in the name of equality. It comes as no surprise as this has been the track of history, Reconstruction was followed by the Redemption period, the women’s rights movement was followed by the Reagan Revolution, and the presidency of Barack Obama was followed by the election of Donald Trump.  Conservative students often talk as if they are somehow unsafe at Dickinson. But this is hard to take seriously when you start to look at their demographic makeup. You have this population, which is primarily made up of very privileged students complaining about being victimized, many of them being white males. But it’s hard for me to take seriously that at Dickinson being a white heterosexual male Christian conservative makes you vulnerable given the system of white supremacy, sexism, and homophobia that quite clearly places those individuals in a place of immense social power. This great sense of victimization comes on the back of these conservative students arguing for many positions that if actualized in the real world would harm the lives of many marginalized groups.

The reality is this, much of the “lefty” culture that conservative students take exception to exists because a lot of its demands have yet to be met. We have yet to live in a world where people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and so many others can be seen as full human beings. And the rough and rugged path to making this so has sparked many conservative students to appeal that somehow they are being victimized because they are in a space where people take seriously the humanity of all human beings.

Indeed then, as I noted in the beginning, the conversation becomes more about power than it does about justice. We convince ourselves that a group of students that have been privileged by the status quo are actually being marginalized. That a group of people whom, given the state of neoliberal America and the history of Western culture, have largely gotten most everything they have ever wanted, somehow need more. What is it that these students really want, do they want professors that don’t support black liberation struggles, gender equality, and decent health care? Will these concessions be enough? But that’s the problem with the premise of the debate around political parity. It assumes that the left has gained too much ground as if bigger systems of injustice are not at play. I reject this narrative of conversation in favor for one that recognizes that we don’t live in a flat world where all our equal but rather a world marked by power differentials. Power differentials that have for the most part benefited white male heterosexual Christian conservatives. The same group of people who are once again in need of more power.

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The Problem with the Political Parity Debate