On a crisp October Tuesday in Madison, Wisconsin, campus was like any other day. Undergrads shuffled off to morning classes, grad students slaved away over coffee, and a student protest group readied art supplies and dildos for a genitalia-themed protest against a conservative speaker on campus.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of Young Americans for Freedom invited journalist Katie Pavlich of Townhall.com to give a lecture on the Second Amendment and self-defense. On the heels of a heated debate over campus carry in Wisconsin at the end of last year, Pavlich’s planned talk quickly inspired vocal objections and an organized protest.
C-cks Not Glocks, a group that made headlines protesting a Texas campus carry law by distributing dildos, planned “The Bonerfide Penis Arts Fest” in response. According to the event’s Facebook page, “C-cks Not Glocks: UW Madison will be gathering during Pavlich’s speech to create and present d-ck art that has ZERO literary, artistic, political, educational, or scientific value. You know, for free speech.”
Braving the chilly rain, protestors followed through on their promise. Perhaps 20 protestors arrived, boxes of supplies in hands, ready to engage in self-admittedly worthless antics. Prior to the event, if you wanted a free dildo, C-cks Not Glocks was happy to provide one (or at least wave one in the air as you passed by on the sidewalk).
Inside, perhaps due to the visible police presence punctuated by plainclothes officers at the front of the lecture hall and several uniformed officers throughout the building, there were no disruptions. Pavlich delivered exactly the sort of talk you would expect a conservative journalist to deliver on the Second Amendment. She addressed a receptive audience, provided statistics, cited the American Revolution, talked about gang violence in Chicago and Washington DC, and answered tame questions before signing copies of her new book. In short, the event was uneventful.
Two Things You Haven’t Heard Yet
The content of the lecture is hardly worth further elaboration. Everyone who reads the news is familiar with the arguments on both sides of the gun control debate. However, despite its subdued nature, Pavlich’s talk highlights two important takeaways surrounding contemporary political discourse on college campuses.
First, amidst an ongoing debate about Nazi-punching and restricting “hate speech,” the fact that YAF was labeled an “alt-right student org[anization]” by the protestors is troubling. Hardly “alt” anything, YAF is a fairly typical conservative student group that supports “limited government, individual freedom, free enterprise, traditional values and a strong national defense.” Lumping relatively tame conservatives in with Richard Spencer’s neo-Nazi ilk contributes to the suspicion that vitriol and threats of violence aren’t aimed only at those who wear swastikas and Klan symbols but at anyone who falls on the conservative side of an issue.
Second, it is discouraging to see this level of political discourse at an institution of higher learning. Students who object to the ideas and policies for which Pavlich advocates could have just as easily attended the lecture, participated in the question and answer time, and attempted to dialogue and persuade those in attendance of their views. Instead, they passed right over argumentation and went straight to sex toys.
As Pavlich pointed out in her lecture, those who oppose women carrying guns for self-protection and suggest we should be instead teaching men not to rape could perhaps find less hypocritical means than brandished male genitalia to make their point.
This Is Both a Left and Right Problem
However, the fault does not lie uniquely with left-leaning students. The Right’s glorification of partisan pundits and provocateurs has done them no favors if the goal is winning young students to the conservative cause. Pavlich is no Milo Yiannopoulos, but the Right’s hesitancy to disavow people of his sort contributes to a general distrust towards conservative media figures generally. It’s not difficult to imagine that right-wing media hubbub surrounding liberal campus “oppression” creates self-fulfilling prophecies that lead to further polarization, discouraging dialogue and discussion.
The college lecture, once a chance to come together and hear new or challenging ideas discussed and debated with vigor, has now become a divisive occasion that costs universities thousands in increased security and leads to literal battle lines being drawn. The contrast between the “us” and the “them” could not be starker than a sex toy protest out on the cold, wet sidewalk and the conservative and libertarian students inside the warm lecture hall hearing their ideas and intuitions confirmed by an engaging young speaker.
How can this gap be bridged? Both sides are responsible to actively seek to elevate the level of conversation and constructive discourse. Where right-leaning students can avoid starting fires, they should avoid it. As for the left-leaning students, well, perhaps start by using words and arguments rather than dildos.