Opinion: How I survived as a conservative at UM
Being a conservative at the University of Michigan feels as if I were the sane one in an asylum.
An instructor once implied that I was a somehow a “holocaust denier” because of my conservative views; students wished for my death by volcano; and the university president dismissed any student who supported President Trump. At every level, the system was built to keep me down.
But I did not let it.
It is not easy being a conservative at any university, let alone a conservative activist. That said, my time as a conservative activist was the most rewarding activity of my last four years. I look most fondly on my time starting Young Americans for Freedom, and growing it to influence thousands of students and the direction of the university. UM four years ago is different from today both in how it views conservative ideas and addresses free speech — a change that I am proud to have played a role in accomplishing.
My YAF chapter brought back a screening of “American Sniper,” put a national spotlight on a professor who said we should “hate” Republicans, challenged the politically correct nonsense of fantasy “pronouns” by identifying as “his majesty,” and hosted 15 conservative speakers that would otherwise never have been invited to speak at the university.
I know there are students in my graduating class who discovered they were conservative because of my efforts, which is why I encourage every conservative undergraduate student to be unafraid to advance your ideas because you never know who you might influence.
Although I never received any recognition of my leadership from the university, I quickly rose through the ranks to become the national chairman of YAF — a position that allows me to encourage high school and college students across the country to advance their conservative ideas.
I am grateful for each of my good friends who took a risk and held leadership positions in our YAF chapter and refused to cave under pressure.
Conservative students also must go out of their way to find leadership in the university sympathetic to their beliefs. I am grateful for the help and friendship of UM Regents Andrea Fischer Newman, and also Ron Weiser — especially their aid when my professors made ridiculous claims about me and other students, and exhibited blatant bias in the classroom.
Conservatives can change the direction of their liberal universities. Due to our work, it appears that university is beginning to wake up and take steps to educate students on free speech and the importance of ideological diversity. One of our events two years ago, a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Bill Ayers, was moderated by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts Dean Andrew Martin.
Indeed, it was heartwarming to hear Martin’s commencement remarks demonstrating the importance of free speech and listening to different viewpoints: “Like many of my colleagues, I’m increasingly distressed by the way the academic world has been sacrificing free speech on the altar of safety ... from unpleasant — and at times horrific — ideas.”
I hope my time at the University of Michigan serves as an example for conservative students everywhere: Be yourself, stand up for what you believe in, challenge authority when necessary, and never give up.
These are lessons I learned, and will continue to employ as I continue my work to ensure that increasing numbers of young Americans are exposed to conservative ideas.
Grant Strobl is national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan.