Most know that being a conservative on a college campus puts you in the political minority; few understand the day-to-day plight of those who are outspoken.
Earlier this month, the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at the University of Florida hosted a speaking event featuring Bay Buchanan, who served as treasurer of the United States during the Reagan administration. Buchanan spoke on several subjects, with abortion as the headline topic. Although the event was successful, many members of YAF, including myself, faced tremendous, and at times, discouraging opposition.
In the days that preceded the event, our chapter — which is made up of truly wonderful, kind-hearted people — advertised the event on a campus-wide scale. We wrote event information in chalk on permitted, public areas and invited students within designated free speech zones, while tabling in Turlington Plaza.
Because the main topic of our event was abortion, members of our group held signs with statistics revealing the number of pregnancies terminated by abortions (22 to 25 percent) and quotes from Margaret Sanger such as: “But such attainment is unthinkable if we continue to breed from the present race stock that yields us our largest amount of progeny. Some method must be devised to eliminate the degenerate and the defective; for these act constantly to impede progress and ever increasingly drag down the human race.”
Although shocking, these are facts that students need to hear. Our goal was to present these statistics and quotes to students so they could decide what they believe for themselves. If they disagreed with our assertions, they would have the opportunity to question their validity. But some on campus not only disagreed with our assertions, they fundamentally did not want our message to be heard.
Many students vandalized our chalkings, some stole our signs, but the most hostile reaction came from an unexpected source — a university employee.
The day of our event with Buchanan, a woman (who UF students have identified on social media as a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant) tore down one of our signs, which contained the controversial Sanger quote about eugenics.
One of our members, who saw this happen, filmed the vandal and asked her why she believed she had the right to steal our sign. Initially, she kept yelling “Fake news!” and said she had the right to rip down the poster because she did not agree with or believe the quote on the poster was true. She then called my friend “defective.”
She quickly realized that she had been caught destroying property, and became so frustrated that she began cursing and physically assaulted my friend in an attempt to remove the phone from his hands.
Watching the recording, I was absolutely aghast. I was not able to immediately internalize that an employee of my campus had insulted and assaulted someone I knew because he wanted to engage in civil discourse. She had, in that moment, personified bigotry.
In the past few years, bigotry against conservatives has permeated the political environment on college campuses throughout the United States. We, as a country, cannot let bigotry continually manifest itself in any form.
President Ronald Reagan put it best when he said, “We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and at all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America — none, whatsoever.”
On numerous occasions, conservative students like me have been insulted and demeaned, but we cannot allow bigotry to manifest itself in the form of violence. Politics has always been divisive. But for the first time, we are witnessing an attitudinal shift on college campuses that will bring the next generation of Americans to a crossroads. If our institutions of education do not start upholding civil discourse among all students, no matter their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or personal political beliefs, we could witness our freedom of speech wither away.
So in the face of bigotry, I will not remain silent. I will raise my voice.
Editor's note: The University of Florida confirmed to Red Alert Politics that the woman in the video is an employee of the university, but would not identify her. "[T]he situation should have been handled in a different fashion. The employee exceeded the scope of her roles and responsibilities, and should have reached out to a university official to address any concerns," said Janine Sikes, the university's assistant vice president of public affairs.
Anthony Leonardi is a student at the University of Florida, a member of the UF Young Americans for Freedom chapter, and the founder of ThinkOutsidePolitics.com