College Occidentally turns student into a conservative
- A former Occidental College student has abandoned liberalism, saying its intellectual homogeneity left him unsatisfied.
- Ryan Hammill says his undergraduate experience at President Obama's alma mater led him to realize that progressive ideas are based on identity politics, rather than a search for truth.
A former Occidental College student has abandoned liberalism, saying its intellectual homogeneity left him unsatisfied.
“When we can explain all social concerns as ‘Oh, that's just power dynamics,’ and explain psychology as ‘Oh, that's just chemicals in your brain,’ and creation itself as ‘Oh, that's just processes working themselves out mechanistically,’ and on and on and on, people will find that that isn't particularly interesting and actually leaves a lot of gaps,” recent Occidental grad Ryan Hammill told Campus Reform, referencing a moment of enlightenment in his undergrad career when a classmate dismissed Botticelli's “Birth of Venus” as a “repression of female sexuality.”
“‘No need to think,’ that comment says. ‘Ideological criticism has got this one figured out.’ That’s so atrociously boring!” he said in an interview with Campus Reform.
In a recent op-ed for The Federalist, Hammill chronicles his ideological struggle with liberalism at President Obama’s alma-mater, where, he said, students “raise political correctness to astounding heights of inventiveness.”
There, in a dorm room he described as being just feet from the one once occupied by the president, he initially understood that “as a white, straight, cis-gendered Christian man I could never really understand the depth of the system’s oppressive nature, given my position of privilege.”
Hammill entered College, as freshmen stereotypically do, with a fondness for the protest culture of the left and a general appreciation of its progressive platform. Over the years, however, he came to experience the left as a sort of Gnostic sect where access to special knowledge—knowledge afforded only to the marginalized in society—is the key to winning arguments.
“Under the identity politics regime, minority students’ speeches won’t change in substance, thus there’s no reason to expect them to closely read a text,” he opined. “All they are expected to do is find the plausible oppression in the text to which their identity offers them special epistemological access.”
In fact, Hammill recalled several moments throughout his academic career where professors asked him to search for themes of oppression and social justice in a text, leading him to two important insights.
“These two insights—oppressed people’s unique epistemological access into the nature of oppression along with defining the academic task as uncovering narratives of oppression and resistance—fused to impart a usually unspoken but often-felt authority to non-white, non-straight, non-male students to pronounce ultimately upon a text’s level of oppression,” he writes in his op-ed.
The problem, however, runs much deeper, he explained to Campus Reform.
“I think the deeper issue is a denial of objective truth claims altogether,” he suggested. “We don’t care about truth anymore. That’s the problem.”
Indeed, Hammill’s love of truth and appreciation for the past is what ultimately led him to conservatism.
“I felt so alienated at Oxy (a popular nickname for the school), I realized, because I loved the past. I didn’t want to kill it,” he states in the op-ed. “I was, I realized, a conservative.”
Hoping that other conservative students might learn from his experience, Hammill shared several bits of advice with Campus Reform.
“Be brave!” he advised. “Colleges, especially small liberal arts schools, have a way of being suffocatingly narrow and unhappy when someone doesn’t buy into their particular vision.”
Hammill also encouraged his conservative peers to “read widely” in order to understand their country’s past and their opponents’ arguments.
“Read far outside what you’re assigned in class, especially old things,” he suggested. “C.S. Lewis would say that all things being equal, it’s better to read the old book than the new book, because the old one doesn’t make the same mistakes you do.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski