Well Rounded Education Makes A Better DePaul
As any good son should do, I called my mother on Mother’s Day. We often discuss day-to-day happenings and stories, but this Mother’s Day conversation was particularly nostalgic. She mentioned that while cleaning, she found an old photo album with pictures from my early childhood. She noticed that in a good amount of the pictures, I was wearing at least one piece of clothing that represented DePaul University. The pictures of my father and I at Blue Demon basketball games were also numerous––not to mention the yearly shot with the Blue Demon himself. In this sense, I couldn’t imagine myself attending any other university besides DePaul. I grew up a Blue Demon, and I will graduate as one. Though, I won’t be graduating as the Blue Demon of my childhood. DePaul had changed since then, and it was a singularly life changing experience to discover that it was no longer the university I had grown up hoping it was.
Not yet four years ago, I can still recall walking through the DePaul University Lincoln Park Student Center with my parents during the University’s Parent Weekend. We were passing by a large multi-purpose room when we were shocked to see drag queens encouraging us to attend the Coming Out Ball. It was an annual social event for LGBTQ organizations from Chicago-area colleges. I remember being quite embarrassed and angry; embarrassed that such an event was occurring on my campus, and angry that my parents had to see it.
By that time, though, I had already begun to reconsider my childhood understanding of DePaul University. I had not seen nor met a priest on campus despite the stories I remember my grandparents used to tell of how friendly they all were. Not one crucifix was to be found in any University building. And what’s more, if I had a dollar for every time I was told, “DePaul is Catholic, but…” I would have been able to pay at least one year of tuition on my own. I grew especially uncomfortable with my choice to attend DePaul, a choice that I virtually had made my whole life.
At the same time, I wanted to stay, almost entirely because of my introduction to campus politics. About a week after the Parents’ Weekend of my freshman year, former University of Colorado at Boulder professor Ward Churchill would speak on multiculturalism and human rights. At the time of Churchill’s invitation to speak, he had already been under intense scrutiny for his comments on the victims of the September 11 attacks, calling them “little Eichmanns.” I remember how excited for the future my friends in the DePaul College Republicans were when we decided to oppose Churchill’s invitation. Our opposition to the event, and subsequent dealings with University administration, shrouded it in controversy.
Looking back, I regret taking the position that Churchill’s invitation should have been rescinded. I regret organizing a protest that seemed to resemble that of the campus Left’s antics. Yet, a necessary component of the genesis of the conservative movement at DePaul was to “ruffle feathers.” We were admittedly aggressive and, at times, obnoxious. But in many ways, what we did was needed. The controversy surrounding the Churchill event put us on the map of the campus dialogue––a place at DePaul that conservatives had never been before.
Perhaps the most notorious event of the conservative movement at DePaul, and the inaugural event of the DePaul Conservative Alliance, was the Affirmative Action Bake Sale. The bake sale was a satirical event, in which baked goods were sold at different prices depending on the customer’s skin color, as a way to demonstrate the racial preferences in the policy of affirmative action. Due to hostile student reactions, the event was cancelled prematurely by University administration. One month later, President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. notified the DePaul community in a University-wide e-mail that a review of the event had been completed in order to determine whether the bake sale violated any University policies. The review yielded no violations of University policy, but the review itself caused some members of the DePaul community to question the University’s commitment to free speech.
In the e-mail notification of the review, Fr. Holtschneider defined DePaul’s commitment to free speech as an understanding, “that we must allow even those activities that might startle or offend to take place.” He even went on to say that “the best way to counter speech with which we disagree is to greet it with more speech”––a rather solid commitment to free speech. Yet, DePaul seems to have other commitments. Immediately prior to outlining DePaul’s commitment to free speech, Fr. Holtschneider criticizes the bake sale as an event that “doesn’t rise to the level of DePaul’s commitment to create a welcoming atmosphere for all.”
When asked to describe a Vincentian education, it is clear the commitment to a “welcoming atmosphere” colors Fr. Holtschneider’s idea of a university: “We believe [students] better understand how to lead school systems, and court rooms, and hospital emergency rooms when they’ve learned alongside classmates who actually look like the city of Chicago and all of its diversity [emphasis added].” The “economic, religious, ethnic, lifestyle, and international” factors of diversity seem to matter more than a diversity of ideas. Would you rather learn in a classroom that thinks like the city of Chicago and all of its diversity or learn in classroom that simply looks like it? The primary identity of a university ought to always be a “marketplace of ideas” and not simply a “marketplace of people.”
A university is not meant to be a “welcoming” or safe place. In fact, a university should be precisely the opposite. Unsafe for conventional wisdom, unsafe for intellectual intolerance, unwelcome to the dominance of one idea. One of the most urgent responsibilities of a university is to displace students from their status quo and prepare them to engage with ideas that they disagree with––especially during this time of discomfort and alienation. It is in this environment where some of the best learning takes place. And so, the idea that students are entitled to emotional and intellectual safety on a university campus runs counterintuitive to the purpose of learning.
Though, without the DePaul Conservative Alliance, would Fr. Holtschneider be able to argue that his University fulfilled its commitment to free speech? In other words, what would the campus have looked like without us? Quite boring, to say the least. In the past four years, approximately twenty conservative speakers have lectured at DePaul, seventeen of those speakers were invited by the DePaul Conservative Alliance. Nearly all of the events held by the DePaul Conservative Alliance have sparked widespread campus discussions on issues that would have not been raised by any other organization. A cursory review of issues of the DePaulia or the Lincoln Park Statesman (DePaul’s only conservative newspaper, and for about a year, it was DePaul’s only alternative newspaper) would reveal conservatives as the real conversation starters on a wide variety of issues: free speech, affirmative action, Roman Catholicism, foreign policy, feminism, immigration, etcetera. Many issues would not have been discussed on campus had it not been for the work of the DePaul Conservative Alliance.
This all begs the question, what would DePaul’s 2009 graduates be without the DePaul Conservative Alliance? Allow me to make the following suggestion: they wouldn’t be graduates at all. Their education would have been severely deprived if not given the opportunity to hear alternative ideas. There is much said at DePaul of producing a “well-rounded” student; yet without understanding ideas that aren’t their own, students aren’t wholly educated. And so, to graduate means to have an understanding of both your ideas as well as the ideas of others. The diplomas of DePaul’s 2009 graduates wouldn’t be worth half as much if it were not for the DePaul Conservative Alliance.
This year brings the graduation of the last original members of the DePaul Conservative Alliance. Because of our work, we leave knowing that DePaul is indeed better off than it was four years ago.
Nicholas G. Hahn III is the President of the DePaul Conservative Alliance and a student of Political Science and Catholic Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Nicholas is a Phillips Foundation Ronald Reagan College Leaders Scholar and was named among the 2006-2007 Top Ten Campus