Year in Review: The Rise of the Conservative Counter-Culture

Joshua Ciccone

The spring semester of 2018 is coming to a close, and summer is just around the corner. There were many amazing events held on campus this year, and it was a banner year for the conservatives on campus hoping to spread their message. 

In September, the Trump administration announced that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, was set to end. DACA protected the 800,000 young undocumented immigrants in America from deportation. Democrats showed support for the law while Republicans opposed it.

Here on campus, activist groups showed their support for DACA and undocumented university students. The Minnesota Daily, a University of Minnesota newspaper, noted that President Eric Kaler disagreed with the Trump administration’s action, commenting in a campus email, “Our students who enrolled in DACA are valued members of our University community…as a system, we will do everything possible under law to support them in the face of today’s decision.”

On October 25, Lauren Southern, a Canadian conservative speaker and activist spoke at Anderson Hall on the West Bank. The topics of her speech included the dangers of authoritarianism and the importance of free speech. 200 protesters marched outside of the hall chanting against the police and fascism. Leftists accused Southern of association with the alt-right, but Southern firmly rebutted those claims.

Minneapolis hosted Superbowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 5, and Minnesota got its due during the half-time show performed by Justin Timberlake. The UMN Marching Band performed with Timberlake and was on display for the entire nation. The band rehearsed for more than 50 hours at three locations. Drumline Captain Emily Peterson said, “It was tough. It was really hard.”

Ben Shapiro spoke at the University of Minnesota at the St. Paul Campus on February 25, 2018. His topics included free speech and capitalism. Shapiro, the founder of the Daily Wire, gave a speech at the request of a student group on campus, the Students for a Conservative Voice. The Pioneer Press reported that 100 law enforcement personnel protected the event, a move made to prevent the horrific acts of violence that occurred at the University of California Berkley last year. 

Young America’s Foundation, the organization that sponsored Shapiro, threatened a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota for the university’s mistreatment of conservative students’ rights. According to the Foundation, the University of Minnesota denied Students for a Conservative Voice a larger venue on the West Bank of the campus.

In early March, the Star Tribune reported that university students wanted the name of Coffman Memorial Union changed due to the shaky history of the building’s namesake. A resolution to change the building’s name came from the Minnesota Student Association after 20 student groups and 16 faculty members lobbied for the legislation. 

In the fall of 2017, discussion about the university’s past surfaced during the exhibit “A Campus Divided: Progressives, Anti-Communists, and Anti-Semitism at the University of Minnesota, 1930-1942.” The former university president Lotus D. Coffman’s accused racism and anti-Semitism-related trespasses were on display for the campus to see.

The renaming of buildings and monuments has become a big issue in American politics, and that movement has apparently now reached the upper Midwest. University students are divided on renaming buildings. Liberal students see Coffman as a sign of the university’s racist past, while conservatives see the removal of the name as setting a bad precedent in terms of judging historical figures by present-xday norms. 

In early March, university students voted on a referendum presented by the “UMN Divest” campaign that is a part of the larger national Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

The referendum stated, “Should the students of the University of Minnesota demand the Board of Regents divest from companies that are 1) complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, 2) maintaining and establishing private prisons and immigration detention centers, or 3) violating Indigenous sovereignty?”

After the votes were collected, the referendum passed, however, the Board of Regents does not need to take action based on the results. The vote is non-binding but is also symbolic of the large amounts of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment at the University of Minnesota. 

Conservative groups on campus are numerous, including the College Republicans, Students for a Conservative Voice, Conservatives for a Constructive Tomorrow, and the Minnesota Republic. 

A new conservative student group joined the campus conversation in early March. Young Americans for Freedom, a project of Young America’s Foundation, formed a chapter at the U of M following the Ben Shapiro speech. Young America’s Foundation has dozens of student groups such as this one around the United States.

Young America’s Foundation supports the conservative values of national security, free speech, capitalism, the Second Amendment, and traditional family values. The president of the YAF chapter on campus attended the March for our Lives protest on March 24 at the Minnesota State Capitol. The chapter also hosted a pro-Second Amendment table display on April 26 at the university. 

The Students for a Democratic Society, a university activist group, protested on April 12 to disarm the UMPD. The MNDaily noted that there have been no human-related shootings on campus in the last ten years. This protest is a part of a larger campaign to eventually dismantle the entire UMPD.

The University of Minnesota experienced a great school year, as a new conservative counter-culture made its mark on the campus throughout both semesters. George Orwell once said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” a quote that is a perfect summary of the University of Minnesota’s 2017-2018 school year.