Earlier this month, on the eve of a federal trial over Harvard’s use of race in admissions, the university’s president invoked the predominant defense of affirmative action: It enhances education for everybody. “Harvard is deeply committed to bringing together a diverse campus community where students from all walks of life have the opportunity to learn with and from each other,” Larry Bacow wrote.
As a professor, I believe in that ideal as deeply as I believe in anything else. But since the 2016 elections, I’ve come to question whether our elite universities believe it. Despite our rhetoric of diversity, we haven’t made a sustained, explicit effort to learn from a significant but typically ignored minority in our midst: Donald Trump supporters.
Since 2016, I’ve had several pro-Trump students come out to me in my office, with the door closed. One student reported that he had heard a slew of egregiously offensive statements by his peers—including “Trump voters are racists, idiots, or both”—but that he hadn’t said anything in response, for fear of drawing ridicule and hostility. “Please don’t out me in class,” he added.
As Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn wrote in their 2016 book, Passing on the Right, younger conservative professors sometimes describe their plight in the language of gay rights. Like closeted homosexuals, they frequently disguise their identities and play along with the majority—at least until they get tenure, when they’re more likely to express their true selves.
Conservative students don’t have the same freedom. Like the Bryn Mawr student who was flamed on social media after she sought a ride to a 2016 Trump rally—so brutally that she withdrew from school—my Trump-supporting students are understandably afraid that they’ll be vilified by their peers. ...