Why you should care
Isn’t this all about the First Amendment? (Free speech, after all, is up for interpretation.)
Growing up, Steven Glick played soccer on, literally, an uneven playing field. The pregame toss would effectively determine the outcome, because driving the ball uphill spelled disaster no matter how talented the striker. It’s a neat metaphor for Glick’s point: College campuses are too one-sided in their opinions, unwilling to hear a more conservative approach. Kind of like that slanted soccer pitch.
Then again, Glick is living proof that being a vocal conservative in a sea of liberals can be an advantage. As editor-in-chief of the Claremont Independent, Glick is the leading student voice of a larger movement in favor of dissent — and against what he (and many others) sees as the overzealous policing of speech. The 21-year-old junior at Pomona College has become a kind of hero in the conservative blogosphere, nabbed appearances on Fox News and even co-authored an op-ed that got picked up by the Washington Post, against “safe spaces.” Students like Glick “defend free speech and open debate,” says Jennifer Kabbany, of the conservative blog the College Fix, because “they know intrinsically the silencing of dissent on college campuses is not only wrong,” but also antithetical to learning.
Glick wouldn’t be the first college spark plug to turn into a formidable media presence — think Vox founder Ezra Klein or political commentator Ben Shapiro — but this is perhaps a tenser era. On the one hand, the boundaries of civil discourse are being tested by none other than the front-runner for the Republican nomination. On the other, there’s a whole new vocabulary that dominates dorm-room discussions: preferred gender pronouns, microaggressions, trigger warnings, safe spaces, cisnormativity. From calling millennials “swaddled” to “coddled,” a movement is growing that questions the legitimacy of some of this new language and its results. Glick’s opinion? You can thank the social justice warriors for Donald Trump’s rise. Many on the left argue that political correctness and free speech aren’t opposed and that, as associate professor Jelani Cobb argued in the New Yorker, free speech arguments are just “victim-blaming with a software update.” But from where Glick stands, political correctness has already won.
You might assume Glick’s one of those white boys quoting Ayn Rand, but you’d be wrong.
Glick began by writing opinion pieces related to national news, but in time has transitioned to reporting campus happenings. His freshman year, an America-themed frat party drew the ire and protest of fellow students. When a website picked up the story and poked fun at some of the protesters, the college asked the frat to apologize. “I certainly don’t believe that anyone should be forced to celebrate America, but I also don’t believe that anyone should be forced not to,” Glick wrote after the fact.
And then this past summer, another controversy, after Forbes put Pomona College at the top of its college rankings list. Fifty-eight students signed a petition for Pomona to take the ranking off its admissions website, arguing that it increased “pressure to attend highly ranked schools” and “unhealthy competition.” Glick defended the college’s use of the ranking. This year, he’s continued writing on a myriad of controversies stemming from colleges. Glick argued that he was disappointed that comments deemed racially insensitive or uninviting to student diversity sparked enough controversy that it led to the resignation of a dean at Claremont McKenna College. Another piece described the backlash — and the backlash to the backlash — of an event called Project Vulva, which became construed as transmisogyny. (Campus activism leaders could either not be reached directly or didn’t respond to our requests for comment.)
You might assume Glick is one of those white boys quoting Ayn Rand, but you’d be wrong. Yes, he’s a barbecuing-on-the-quad kind of guy, a two-sport athlete and a frat brother, but in conversation he comes across more nerdy than obstreperous. In high school he was paid to make balloon animals for events. He’s reluctant to describe himself as a libertarian (he finally does, though he says that label can come across as inauthentically rebellious or contrarian) and couches many of his claims with a long explanation, carefully walking them back when I and others might start misunderstanding him. Glick’s priorities are twofold: having a clear message and effectively communicating it.
Glick has always been drawn to causes — he became interested in the Constitution during childhood, most of which he spent in Illinois. He went to the same school as President Obama’s daughters, though he firmly backed McCain. He says he didn’t care much about free speech debates when he entered college, but then he watched a documentary about liberalism on campus, and a lot that he saw on-screen he also witnessed on campus. For instance, he says, the leaders of his campus union refused to hold events on controversial topics like sexual assault adjudication policies and affirmative action.
Glick is outnumbered at Pomona, where in 2012, 92 percent of students leaned Democratic. (A poll from the Panetta Institute for Public Policy reported that nationwide, 49 percent of college students described themselves as blue or leaning blue, while 26 percent identified as Republican.) Glick maintains he doesn’t feel isolated, though he’s received his share of name calling. So far he says he’s experienced only one instance of overt bias, resigning from his job at the Writing Center after a faculty member who oversaw his appointments there canceled them and assigned him special reading about identity politics. (A spokesperson for the writing center declined to comment.)
But college protest is multisided, as Glick would have it. He walks me around the campus of the Claremont Colleges, past a wall where students paint messages promoting their events. One message encourages others to remember Black victims of police brutality, but last year, someone painted over the wall, and it’s unclear why.