What About Tolerance for Intolerance? pt. 2

In my last post, I wrote about the way Trump supporters at the University of Michigan have borrowed a language of multiculturalism to frame their far-right political choices as a vulnerable identity. One group of Trump-voting Wolverines sent a petition to University President Mark Schlissel, complaining that his post-election statements on intolerance and bigotry in the Trump campaign amounted to “bias” and “intimidation” against them. The pro-Trump students’ framed their unpopularity on college campuses as a kind of  minority position, any criticism or opposition to which then constitutes a threat to “diversity.” And some of their supporters agreed, under the tortured logic that if intolerance is bad, then intolerance for intolerance must also be bad. No tolerance for intolerance of intolerance!

This is confusing and galling for any number of reasons, the most important of which is that the Ann Arbor campus has seen a rise in incidents of white-supremacist intimidation over the last few months. If anyone is looking for intimidation, they should look there.

Dr. Schlissel didn’t help matters, recently issuing a statement that appeared to equate actual incidents of racial intimidation against Michigan students with criticism of Trump voters’ racism:

We saw a threatening message painted on the rock near our campus; a student walking near campus was threatened with being lighted on fire because she wore a hijab; another student left his apartment to go to class and found a swastika with a message telling him to go home.  Some students have also been shouted at and accused of being racist because of their political views.

Some students are threatened with murder by racists; others are shouted at for being racist.

The pro-Trump students’ campaign against the supposed “bias” against them (again, read: their unpopularity) reached a kind of absurd crescendo, when Amanda Delekta of the College Republicans met with Dr. Schlissel and requested a “unity campaign,” as reported recently in the New York Times. This is what also gets me: the Trump-voting students position themselves as an activist faction, borrowing a sort of posture or attitude from the left. But at the same time, they expect the university administration to embrace them for doing so. At no point in my own career as an activist on college campuses did it ever once occur to me that I should expect the enthusiastic endorsement of the college president as a precondition.

When Ms. Delekta met with Michigan’s president, Dr. Schlissel, she brought Enrique Zalamea, president of the College Republicans, along with her. They proposed a kind of unity campaign for campus, in which students would march with signs saying, “I am a Wolverine,” to stress their similarities.

And they suggested some TED-type sessions on inclusivity and diversity.


But in borrowing some of the terms (diversity, inclusion, community) and the posture (an activist faction silenced by the administration) of student activists of the left, these students cleverly appropriate the discourse of the liberal university for illiberal ends. The ease with which this can be accomplished only emphasizes the importance of efforts at places like Swarthmore College, which aim to push institutions way from ineffectual bromides about “values” and “diversity” and “unity” and into clear public positions on its obligations to vulnerable student populations.

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