POLITICS

Conservative students at Lutheran college say they fear for personal safety

Vice president of St. Olaf College Republicans speaks out on 'Fox & Friends'

 

It’s no surprise that secular U.S. college student bodies are becoming intolerant of conservatives, but the same trend may be emerging in some of the nation’s religiously affiliated schools.

Take St. Olaf College, a school affiliated with the 3.7 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is about 40 miles south of Minneapolis.

Kathryn Hinderaker, a St. Olaf student and vice president of the College Republicans, told Fox News that the atmosphere on campus has become physically threatening for conservatives.

“After the election [of Donald Trump] things definitely got a lot worse,” she told Fox News. “For days after, there were big protests held where students would gather in huge crowds and yell threats to Republicans and talk about their hatred for voters of Trump. It became a very hostile campus.”

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“They held a vigil for the ‘death of America’,” she said.

St. Olaf College officials said they do not endorse the hostility Hinderaker is reporting. They say they are actively working against any such behavior.

“When reactions cross this line and lead to bullying, harassment, or other behavior that violates our community standards, we have and will continue to enforce our code of conduct,” a college spokesperson said. “There is no place for bullying of any kind at St. Olaf, including student-on-student bullying because of a student’s political views. We also do not permit faculty/staff imposing their own views in an academic setting.”

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One upshot of the perceived hostility and intolerance has been conservative students trying to keep a low profile and not disclosing their views.

“I’ve had an insane number of people whisper to me at parties or other events: ‘Hey I’ve seen you around campus and I agree with you. Good job'," Hinderaker said. "That just shows how hard it is for students to speak up right now. They have to literally whisper to me: I’m a conservative.”

The campus hostility to Republicans and conservatives belies the progressive community’s historic commitment to free speech and the free and open exchange of ideas, she said.

“They talk about diversity in all forms, which I think is wonderful, but what they forget about is … diversity of thought,” Hinderaker said.

Besides keeping their heads down some students have decided to transfer to less-intolerant schools.

Reagan Lundstrom Warner, a political science major at St. Olaf's, is one such student, according to St. Olaf’s student newspaper, the Manitou Messenger. Lundstrom Warner plans to transfer to St. Thomas University in South Florida next fall.

“While faculty are encouraged to remain unbiased, she said that one of her professors used class time to expound upon personal views. '[A professor] started every class with basically just ridiculing Trump for about 20 minutes,'" the newspaper quoted Lundstrom Warner as saying.

The college spokesperson acknowledged “there were some instances of students attempting to intimidate other students because of how they voted in the presidential election. In each case where a complaint was reported to the dean of students or provost, prompt action was taken to address that behavior with the student or faculty/staff member and appropriate sanctions were imposed. St. Olaf remains committed, as it has always been, to the free and open exchange of ideas.”

The experience of students at St. Olaf is not unique. The student newspaper said a survey revealed that in 1990, "42 percent of professors identified as liberal, compared to 60 percent in 2014. Today, left-leaning professors outnumber conservative professors five to one. St. Olaf’s student population is no exception,” the Manitou Messenger said. “In the 2016 general election, 82.18 percent of St. Olaf students who voted on campus cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, 10.33 percent voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence and 5.03 percent voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson."