Chairman, California College Republicans
"Campus activists have a duty to reveal these problems and force their fellow students to think for themselves."
The Left dominates our academic institutions, strangling free speech and diversity of thought in the process; this is clear to see at my campus, UC Irvine. College students with political beliefs that are center-right — or even centrist — have an extremely unique position of being both ignored and potentially attacked by their fellow students and college professors. As a result, these students become what is known as “closet conservatives,” and with the increasing hostility of mob rule and campus partisanship, there will soon be students regarded as “closet centrists.” Conservative students must push back on this trend and voice their concerns through activism. Instead of simply copying the sit-ins and protests that college kids use to project their civil disobedience, what right-wing students must do is organize themselves better. They must engage in effective activism.
In October 2020, UC Irvine announced they were inviting and hosting the author of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, to discuss her work on a zoom call — open to all students. I wanted to challenge the problems of hosting such a character and generate meaningful discourse. While the Left tries to stop any right-leaning speakers from coming to campus — with the intention of ruining their speeches and preventing the spread of conservative views — that was not my intention. In doing so, I decided to write an email before the event and express my concerns as a student. This is what I wrote to inform of the problems Nikole Hannah-Jones posed on the university’s campus:
I'm writing to express my concern about UCI Illuminations hosting Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project. I want to say at the outset that I am an advocate for freedom of speech and believe strongly in the free exchange of ideas, especially in the university. That said, I believe that Hannah-Jones' work and the way it is being disseminated, especially in K-12 schools nation-wide, is problematic and deserves critical examination. Welcoming someone like this on our campus, not discussing the serious controversies Ms. Jones has contributed in her publication could call into question the very integrity of our university. As it stands, I believe that the 1619 Project is ideologically-driven historical revisionism that poses a threat to the foundations of our liberal democracy.
The 1619 Project is an important work, whatever my views on it, due to the accolades it has received (the Pulitzer Prize) and for the impact it has already made in our culture. For instance, the Project has been heralded as a perspective that must be taught in schools, and a full curriculum has been created to assist schools in that work. I do not deny that our country must reckon with historical atrocities: racism and slavery were, and are, problems that we must address and reconcile. My issues are that the Project has a culturally abusive set of goals, and sets out to accomplish those goals using academically unethical means. The 1619 Project has as its goal the reframing of the United States as founded in order to perpetuate and extend slavery. The author goes so far as to state that the US was/is a slavocracy, literally designed in order to keep anyone but white, wealthy, male landowners from accessing power. In terms of method, not only does Hannah-Jones get her facts wrong in many places, she proceeded in spite of knowing that they were wrong in order to pursue an agenda (the project's fact-checker was ignored: https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/06/1619-project-new-york-times-mistake-122248). If this is not the work of a propagandist, I don't know what is.
Academics from both the right and left have been critical of the 1619 Project and Nikole Hannah-Jones. Upon its publication, a group of academics led by historian Gordwon Wood penned a letter to the New York Times Magazine criticizing the Project's fast-and-loose use of facts to push a narrative, saying "We all want justice, but not at the expense of truth" (https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/12/24/nytr-d24.html). The New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein responded in a way the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) described as "evasive and disingenuous" and that the Project's blurring the distinction between historiography and journalism "violates the professional standards and ethics of both fields." The WSWS are critical of the authors' and editor's attempt to waffle:
When challenged on its numerous factual errors, the paucity of its source material, and the ignoring of scholarly literature, the Times excuses itself by arguing that its authors do not claim to be historians. But when it is pointed out that the authors have failed to present accurately, as is expected of competent journalists, the conflicting arguments in the debate over America's founding, the Times proclaims that it is writing a new history. (https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/12/28/nytr-d28.html)
There is no shortage of criticism of the Project and its unethical narrative-pushing at the expense of truth (https://www.aier.org/article/the-case-for-retracting-matthew-desmonds-1619-project-essay/ ; https://newdiscourses.com/2020/07/history-killers-academic-fraudulence-1619-project/). In fact, the push-back has been significant enough that the New York Times Magazine revised the text of the opening Project essay to dampen its claims without so much as a public apology (https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/09/22/1619-s22.html ; https://quillette.com/2020/09/19/down-the-1619-projects-memory-hole/). This was not before, however, Nikole Hannah-Jones proudly accepted the name "1619 Riots" for this summer's urban violence in a now-deleted tweet:
It is disturbing to me that a major cultural institution, the Pulitzer Committee, gave its stamp of approval to the Project and immediately began disseminating it in schools despite the questionable content and arguments - in the name of developing critical consciousness rather than critical thinking. It is further disturbing to me that our university would give a platform to someone who is behaving unethically - not merely academically, but civically - in order to further destabilize our already polarized culture. I am shocked that during the election season, during one of the most pivotal elections some would argue, that the university openly welcomes a divisive thinker to further aggravate tensions that currently are at a dangerous level.
After hosting her this Thursday October 29 2020, I believe that academic integrity demands that context be provided - specifically, that her work was error-ridden, that she ignored her own fact-checks, and that only after significant push-back did the Magazine make quiet changes to the work. The University should seek truth by encouraging open discourse - and that involves holding propagandists accountable for their drivel.
Thank you for your time.
The professor responded to me after the event and thanked me for my “thoughtful email.” They then informed me that during the event, there was a discussion with Hannah-Jones on “creating historical narratives.” Students were asked to consider who crafts a narrative — and who it is for. The problems I pointed out with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ academic dishonesty were not addressed. However, I received a reply rather than being ignored by the professor.
This email effort inspired me to pursue more activism in this vein; campus conservatives should push back against the leftist ideologies being shoved down our throats by college professors. Activists need to organize more than twenty people to send emails like these well-researched cases, explaining why hosting people like Nikole Hannah-Jones — who threatens academic freedom — is destructive and only continues to divide. Students with well-organized thoughts and credible information have the ability to sway professors and change other students’ minds.
Using authors and publications of varied political leanings reassures professors of a student’s well-rounded research. Sources like Breitbart News, National Review, Daily Caller, etc. will get you labelled as a far-right sympathizer, and your argument will be instantly disregarded. However, the 1619 Project is so controversial that, since its publication, both left-leaning and right-leaning authors have written scathing articles about its faults. Your argument is further justified when using this varied research to your advantage. For example, in my email, I used sources such as: Politico, World Socialist Web Site, Quillette, New Discources and American Institute of Economic Research.
What closet conservatives need to understand is: college professors, rightfully, care deeply about the feelings of their students; their radical students have become so rabid that they must do so. This is why the administration and faculty cave to the harassment and immaturity of the loudest left-leaning students when there is a conservative speaker invited onto campus. These professors cater to the loudest voices directed at them. This is evident in how the professor in my example regarded what I had to say on the matter and responded kindly. This is all the more reason that campus conservatives must be respectfully critical, as professors will listen to what we have to say. However, one or two voices will not be enough to get a proper reaction from professors. Right-wing thinkers must facilitate a group to give the impression they are the loudest voices on the concerns of the student body.
Generating student activism, effective student activism I should emphasize, begins when you raise your voice in a respectfully critical tone. Beyond emails prior to these events, conservative students should raise critiques during the events. Hold people like Hannah-Jones responsible by respectfully asking about the legitimate critiques her work stands on; ask questions no matter how controversial. Point out the controversies and ask about the legitimate concerns you have — especially with a work as disastrous as the 1619 Project. Campus activists have a duty to reveal these problems and force their fellow students to think for themselves.