Judith Shulevitz perhaps suspected that her piece “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas,” published 21 March in the New York Times, would briefly make her the darling of conservatives. The op-ed undertakes a brief study of how the spread of the doctrine of “safe spaces,” where students are sheltered from “being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints,” has threatened or shut down entirely debates on abortion at Oxford, sexual assault policy at Brown, and free speech at Chicago. Ms. Shulevitz boldly concludes that such sheltering of students from uncomfortable ideas is “bad for them and for everyone else.”
It is understandable why conservatives should tout pieces such as these. The diagnosis of unpopular beliefs as pathogens does more than make those who feel victimized by them eligible for protection. It also makes those who spread them biological terrorists of sorts, polluters of the political community and threats to the common good. And on college campuses, conservatives have long held what are generally considered unpopular, threatening, and exclusionary beliefs.
They have responded by vigorously defending their right to argue for such beliefs, and the benefits such debates bring the whole community. These defenses seem to have become more desperate and more common of late, which perhaps accounts for the gratification conservatives felt at finding such a defense mounted by a prominent journalist in America’s most prominent paper, and for the defenses of open dialogue on campus that dominate this issue of the Tory.
None of this is to say that concern for inclusion, participation, and debate is a strictly conservative concern. In fact the story that has dominated political headlines of late is the passage of the Indiana law that liberals find so deeply exclusionary.
But ultimately, each side’s cry for inclusion represents something deeper, of course. Each side believes, not simply that it has a view on the morality of abortion or the rights of consumers, and that everybody else ought hear it, but that it has the correct view, and that everybody else would be cheated not to hear it. Each side’s cry is a cry for truth.
It is the search for truth with which this journal concerns itself. Conservatives believe that truth is reliably found in tradition, order, and faith, so these themes will naturally dominate the Tory’s discourse. I encourage those who appreciate this discourse to join it by writing for us. But, in the spirit of defending dialogue, I also welcome those who disagree to contribute their views in the form of constructive and respectful letters to the editor, which I promise to publish. I look forward to reading what you write in the coming year!