A DePauling Double Bind
January 22, 2013 was a date some DePaul University students would not let pass by unnoticed. While many of his classmates slept-in, Kristopher Del Campo and his friends in the Young Americans for Freedom student organization were busy planting pink and blue flags in the campus lawn to mark just some of the unborn children aborted 40 years since Roe v. Wade.
When Del Campo and his friends returned at the end of the day to remove the flags, they found them stuffed in nearby trashcans. Shocked, Del Campo reported the incident to campus police and the University began its investigation.
University spokesperson Cindy Lawson told Fox News that "DePaul has a very clear free speech policy. And although we don't expect all of our students to be of the same mind on issues, we do stress the importance of respecting others' right to freely express their opinions on issues." DePaul University President Fr. Dennis Holtschneider wrote to Del Campo with an apology and the hope that "this experience will not define your time at DePaul."
This didn't satisfy Del Campo or Young America's Foundation, the national organization behind Young Americans for Freedom chapters. And nor should it. The nation's largest Catholic university has quite a record when it comes to controversial speech on its campus. Since University administrators seem to have a case of convenient amnesia, an airing of dirty laundry is in order.
Your humble correspondent is an alumnus of DePaul University and in January of 2006 my conservative student organization held an Affirmative Action Bake Sale that sold baked goods at different prices depending on ethnicity. The bake sale was designed to demonstrate racial preferences in Affirmative Action policies. Amid student protests, the University shut down our bake sale.
After a lengthy investigation, our group was censured, suspended from applying for student organization activities funds, and forced to participate in an "educational project" with the ulterior aim of re-educating us. Fr. Holtschneider even penned a University-wide email denouncing our event as "blatantly offensive," and that it didn't "rise to the level of DePaul's commitment to create a welcoming atmosphere for all."
Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. In March of that year, campus buildings had been vandalized with racist graffiti scribbled on walls during the early morning hours and warranted yet another University-wide email from Fr. Holtschneider. In an embarrassing fit of melodrama, Fr. Holtschneider wrote that he was in New York, but would rush back to campus at once! to "reaffirm our commitment to fostering a welcoming environment" and to host a "solidarity prayer vigil."
What's more, a University spokesperson told WBBM that the campus had been "politically charged" since my student organization's bake sale and that it "certainly created some dialogue about Affirmative Action policies and practices about minorities on campus."
What Fr. Holtschneider opportunely omitted from his version of events was that some of the graffiti accompanied a "from the College Republicans" signature. My friends and I were questioned and cleared of all wrongdoing. After all the town hall meetings, grieving sessions, and candle light vigils, the "hate incident" was a hoax intended to frame my student organization.
The University's shameful attempt to connect our bake sale to racist graffiti came and went, apparently without any lessons learned.
Which brings us back to Kristopher Del Campo and his friends in the Young Americans for Freedom chapter. Where is your University-wide email now, Father? Where are the public condemnations of the students who destroyed the Flags for Life display? Where are the prayer vigils? Where are you?
Feeling alone and abandoned by his university, Del Campo's phone rang.
"Hello, Kristopher? This is Cardinal George."
While it was all of "just a few minutes," the Archbishop of Chicago had personally called Del Campo to offer his "support" and an open line of communication. It's perhaps the kind of encouragement Del Campo will need. The names of the students who admitted to destroying the display were published online and the University is blaming Del Campo. DePaul's grossly misplaced interest in protecting the supposed privacy of vandals comes as no surprise.
Just recall Fr. Holtschneider's preposterous "commitment" to creating a "welcoming atmosphere" at a university. Here, the good Father's university becomes a "marketplace of people" and not a "marketplace of ideas." Ideas don't have feelings, but people do. Therefore, for Fr. Holtschneider, people must be made to feel welcome -- even vandals. Free speech be damned.
A university ought not be about feeling welcome or comfortable. In fact, a university isn't about feelings; it's about thoughts. One of the most urgent responsibilities of a university is to throw students off their high-chairs and prepare them to engage with ideas of which they disagree -- especially during their expected discomfort and alienation. This is the pursuit of Truth. And so, the notion that students are entitled to emotional and intellectual safety on a university campus runs counterintuitive to the pedagogical mission of any institution of learning.
Will DePaul ever learn?