I'm trying to figure out when kindness, inclusion, and fairness became bad things for conservatives. I was raised a fundamentalist Southern Baptist. As early as I can remember my Sunday school teachers taught me to be kind, to share, to welcome others, to take turns, to show respect, and to be fair because that's what the Bible says. These were our values as conservative Christians.
Now I see the same values attacked as liberal brainwashing and an affront to conservatives.
A conservative blogger recently criticized my university for its proposal to require all entering students to complete a module on social justice that will "help empower all OSU students to contribute to an inclusive university community." The requirement came out of a listening session students of color organized for the university president and other Oregon State University community members to hear and understand the often difficult experiences faced by students of color on campus. That session has also led to the creation of an office of institutional diversity with a chief diversity officer and training in inclusion, equity, and diversity for faculty and staff.
The conservative blogger thinks all of this is a really bad thing. Of course, this blogger also advises high school students not to go to college because they'll only pay a lot of money to get a degree that won't help them get a job, but that's another issue for another day.
In particular, this blogger targets the university's Bias Response Team and its incident report form. She writes:
You fill it out like you would a police report. Not for crime, though. For bias. As in the thing that's practically intangible. The thing that you have no way of proving actually did or did not take place. It's also almost impossible to deny.
Bias is not intangible if you're the target. Ask women graduate students who've been sexually harassed by major professors. Or Jewish students who've had swastikas spray-painted on their doors. Or LGBTQ students who've had their student center vandalized. Or Black students who've found nooses hanging in trees on campus or Latino students who've had beer bottles thrown at them when walking past a fraternity. This blogger's minimization of bias overlooks the seriousness of bias incidents and the real psychological (and sometimes physical) harm caused by these incidents.
This blogger goes on to equate response to bias with the stifling of free speech. In fact, she compares the work of the Bias Response Team to Nazi suppression of speech. She writes:
So if you see something, say something. Even if that something doesn't legitimately warrant worry... Or fear of safety. Or discomfort. Freedom of speech? Meh. It better not be considered incriminating by this group's arbitrary standards.
Now, she never provides any evidence of "arbitrary standards." Nor of any link between teaching students about justice and suppressing free speech. She just assumes.
I'm also on the university's committee to draft a statement on freedom of expression. As a public university, we value the broadest parameters for free speech. We do not see values of inclusion, equity, and justice at odds with free speech. In fact, we believe they complement one another. Both are necessary for true democracy.
What I find most baffling in this blogger's attack is not her lack of evidence or well-developed arguments. I've come to expect that in these kinds of rants. It is her assumption that values of inclusion, equity, and justice are "ultra-liberal" and somehow only the purview of the left.
I don't understand why, as a conservative, she sees a problem in a university desiring to be a place where all people--including conservatives--feel welcomed and valued and have opportunities to succeed in their academic pursuits. I don't understand why she would think values of kindness, welcome, and fairness are not conservative values as well.
Certainly, this recent primary campaign season has heightened our awareness of how many Americans still do value white supremacy, male dominance, and nativism, but I have to ask if these truly are the values most conservatives want to embrace in opposition to inclusion, equity, and justice. I became the progressive I am because my fundamentalist church taught me, as the prophet Micah wrote, what God requires is that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
So perhaps those folks who are criticizing my university's attempts at creating a more just educational environment or who are trying to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity or who are cheering on promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants should ask themselves when being kind, fair, and welcoming stopped being conservative values.