Madison Breshears began her freshman year of college excited to engage in open dialogue in an honest quest for truth. She anticipated her professors would present information and allow students to decide for themselves what they believed. She found the opposite to be true.
By her junior year, Breshears says, she realized her university actually was seeking to reeducate her with far-left doctrine that could be classified as Marxism. She joins “Problematic Women” today to discuss the radical agenda that has infiltrated college campuses and why it may be to blame for the chaos we see across America today.
Also on today’s show, we highlight the Trump administration’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative and the incredible work it’s doing to support women around the world. Policy adviser and author Kimberly Ells also joins the show to discuss the global campaign to crush the traditional family. And as always, we’ll be crowning our Problematic Woman of the Week.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am joined by Madison Breshears, a graduate of UC Berkeley and author of a recent media piece entitled “Wake Up: Our Cultural Crisis Is a Graduate of the American University.” Madison, welcome to the show.
Madison Breshears: Thanks for having me.
Allen: We’re really excited to discuss your piece in just a moment. But first, I want to take a second just to learn a little bit about you and why you chose to go to Berkeley for your undergrad. You graduated in 2018, but I know that process of choosing a school is a big deal. So why Berkeley?
Breshears: I grew up in California my whole life. And California has a great public university system, and they’re very competitive to get in because the prices are relatively low, and the quality of the education and the reputation of the schools—UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and Berkeley, of course, are all really great options for kids who are first-generation college students like I was, for kids who are lower income or middle class.
So it was a great deal, and I wasn’t going to pass up getting one of those spots. I wasn’t really in touch with politics at the time. I didn’t really have a clear conception of what my political views were. I’d been told that Berkeley was a bit of a crazy place politically, but at the time I didn’t take those warnings very seriously at all. And even if I did, I didn’t think it was something to be too concerned about.
Allen: And what did you study at Berkeley?
Breshears: I studied literature. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so that’s where I was looking at the time. I’m in law school now, but I still of course like to write.
Allen: That’s wonderful. So you started your freshman year. And what were you expecting from your college experience?
Breshears: Of course, I think every college freshman has really romantic ideas about what college is going to be. I expected to go somewhere where people were going to present a variety of viewpoints in an objective way, and then they were going to allow students to come to their own conclusions about what they believed the truth was. I thought there would be open dialogue. I thought there would be a lot of debate.
At first, I accepted what I saw, which was not so much that, as proper for a university. It wasn’t until my junior year that I started to question the lack of discourse and civil discussion and objectivity going on, on campus.
Allen: Let’s talk more about that because I love the first piece of this story that you wrote. The title of the article is “Wake Up: Our Cultural Crisis Is a Graduate of the American University.” And your very first line is: “As a 19-year-old, I was led to believe I was crazy when I began to suspect that my university was attempting to reeducate me.”
So can you just explain a little bit about: How did you begin to think this way and actually kind of come to that conclusion of, “Wait a second, I think what’s going on here is reeducation?”
Breshears: So the first couple years, my freshman and sophomore year, I would come home from school and I would just be fighting with my parents all the time. I came home and thought everyone I knew and loved was absolutely backwards for thinking totally normal things about society, which I had been taught in school, completely unequivocally, no nuance to these views whatsoever. And they weren’t challenged, obviously, ideas about men and women, ideas about personal responsibility, ideas about history, [the] American founding, things like that, which you take some general ed courses [about] your first year. They cover a lot of ground.
And I was just having a lot of tension with my parents, and I was very naively believing that most of my elders in my life were mistaken, stupid, and bigoted. And it wasn’t until I started to think a little bit more critically about what I was being told, and I started to build up the courage to ask some questions of my professors, who were talking to me, and becoming concerned why other people weren’t asking questions.
Then I started doing some research of my own [on] the outside, looking into conservative writers; particularly I got pretty interested in the Hoover Institution. So it started with economics. I started listening to that, and then that led to listening to more conservative cultural commentary, which gave me the tools to ask the questions that no one was asking at Berkeley. And the response I got to that made me even just more concerned.
Allen: Can you give a specific example of an area where you challenged one of your professors and what their response was to your questions?
Breshears: I took a class in legal sociology. From the title, you can probably guess that I should’ve known what I was getting into, but I clearly did not. But that is the class that I mention in my piece, where the professor, without any background information, encouraged the entire class to go out and protest the arrest of a student, [although] we didn’t know any of the details about the arrest. And save me and one other student, everyone joined.
And it was a very confusing situation. I felt strangely compelled to go to please my professor and to not invite the ire of the other students, or the suspicion of the other students. But I felt also conflicted because I didn’t know the circumstances of the arrest, and I felt strange protesting something which I didn’t know the details of.
So in that class particularly, there were a lot of strange confrontations. Particularly, we had a class on policing and wealth disparity, particularly among racial communities, between racial communities. And there was one point where the professor was advancing a theory that the reason why more arrests occurred in certain areas, or in certain communities, is because there are more police there to apprehend [suspects in] such crimes or seek out such crimes.
At one point, just out of sheer curiosity, I raised my hand, said, “How do you square that with rates of homicide in those communities? Is it that homicides are occurring in the other communities as well, but they’re being unresolved?”
Breshears: The bodies are never being found. And he essentially dodged the question and moved on. But it was very awkward. I felt very isolated from my peers. Definitely wasn’t a question that people thought was appropriate to ask.
And that pretty much encapsulates the entire experience I had at Berkeley outside of very artistic literature classes. Any time any kind of historical or philosophical topic was discussed, it became very polarized very quickly.
Allen: So your freshman year, you started a little bit to buy in to what you were being taught, and you had these arguments with your parents when you went home. But then … sophomore year, you began to question things. … That tends to not exactly be often what we see, though. Usually, we see quite frequently that young people enter college and they kind of take the bait. And then they just continue walking down that very progressive road of thinking. What was the difference for you? What switched that made you begin to think, “Wait a second. I’m actually not sure that this is the truth?”
Breshears: It actually was more around my junior year. But yeah, I had that conflict with my parents for a long time. Strangely, though, all my friends were on the same path. They had also started their freshman year, and they also bought into all these very similar ideas. I was doing great among my friends. We were having great, very one-sided discussions. And then we were all going home and berating our parents.
So around junior year, that was the time when I started to become interested in economics, as I mentioned. And I was listening to [economist] Russ Roberts from Hoover Institution. And he would have on some heterodox speakers, who would kind of open the door to me to some other ways of thinking about the world.
And then of course, 2016 and the lead-up to 2016, I started to see some really concerning behavior come about on campus. [It] became a very intolerant, very hostile environment. I didn’t vote for [Donald] Trump. I didn’t vote for Hillary [Clinton]. I didn’t feel comfortable voting for either at the time.
But it became dangerous to take a political position that wasn’t on the left at Berkeley during that period. There was one instance where someone wrote, “Trump 2016” in chalk on the mall, something that political groups do all the time. And it was investigated at Berkeley, which we all found out about through email, as some form of hate crime against minorities on campus.
So it became very clear to me that something was wrong. And then of course, the riots that would break out also in the lead-up to the election was probably the watershed moment for me.
Allen: Can you tell us a little bit about those riots, what exactly that looked like, and what it was like being a student on campus during that time?
Breshears: Sure. So in my journey that I was having, my intellectual journey that I was having at the time, I had flirted with joining the much maligned, much ostracized group on campus, Berkeley College Republicans.
I wasn’t brave enough as those brave souls to publicly identify with the group, but I would attend meetings just to get some kind of perspective on what the other side of the conversation was.
And they had decided that they were going … They invited speakers, and that was pretty much their main contribution on campus, just bringing people into school who would say something different.
But they had this great idea in the lead-up to 2016 that they were going to bring on firebrands to shake things up because of the intolerance that they were seeing. And they wanted to test Berkeley, which has touted this notion of being the bastion of free speech on college campuses. So they were going to test it. They were going to invite Milo Yiannopoulos, who at the time hadn’t been totally excommunicated from civil society, but was kind of still out there causing trouble.
So they decide to invite him. And in the lead-up, we get lots of emails and it appears there’s going to be some problems, that people are protesting already. There’s signs of doxing some of the members of Berkeley College Republicans, putting their personal information, their number, calling them fascists and Nazis.
So it’s looking like something’s not going to go well. There’s going to be problems with the event going forward. They couldn’t find anyone to volunteer to help facilitate the event.
And I’d become very passionate about free speech at the time. It’s probably what motivated me to go to law school. And so I volunteered to help facilitate the event.
That would unfold in a way I could never have imagined. It resulted in hundreds and hundreds of masked rioters, many of whom I suspect were students. But no one was arrested, so that can’t be confirmed.
[It was] a complete breakdown of law and order; police were just passively standing by the whole time, allegedly on stand-down orders from the city of Berkeley, while friends and peaceful event attendees, who had come to see Milo, were beaten up and assaulted right before my eyes.
I had never seen anything like it at the time. It was the most violence I’d ever seen. I’d never been in a situation where I thought police wouldn’t protect me if someone was hurting me illegally, so that was the first time that’s ever happened. The student center was set on fire. There was a large fire burning in the center of the mall.
And all of the windows of the student center, the Martin Luther King Student Center, I add, were broken and shattered by rioters. So it was a pretty transformative moment for me. It was so shocking that it kind of shook me from my complacency with the situation going on at Berkeley.
Allen: My goodness. It’s almost, as you’re describing it, it’s almost just too wild to believe. It’s like, wow, that took place on a university campus with police standing by.
And universities, they’ve always been known as being quite progressive. But you point out that this is something different, that we’ve passed just kind of left-leaning progressivism, and we’ve really reached Marxism. Why is this anti-American rhetoric so enticing to young people, do you think?
Breshears: There’s some statistics published by [New York University social psychologist] Jonathan Haidt that show that there’s been a really dramatic move leftward since the 1990s. I’m not sure very many people know about that, but it’s a dramatic move that happened out of pace with the rest of America; so in general people didn’t move as quickly to the left as academics did after the ’90s.
I’m not sure why the ’90s made that happen. I know people have a lot of theories, but I’m not sure which is the correct one. But definitely, I would say from what research I’ve done, it seems different insofar as it combines the economic and social theories of Marxism with the really potent, very academic-sounding, vague ideas of postmodernism, which called students, young people, to question all moral, social, and political norms as constructs in society. We all know about postmodernism.
But I think the most troubling aspect is the race and gender identitarianism, which is very successfully inculcated in young people. I find it to be very regressive and frightening.
But the intersectional identitarianism combined with the Marxism, which of course has another very attractive aspect to young people, which is lack of a kind of absolution of personal responsibility, an endorsement of the idea that society is organized on arbitrary and unfair bases, and that their meritocracy is essentially a lie told to keep wealthy people, usually white men, in power.
And it’s a potent combination of ideas, which I think has been accepted whole cloth by many, many students. Which doesn’t surprise me, not only because it’s attractive but because if you’re only hearing one thing, and it’s from professors that you otherwise trust, highly credentialed professors who speak very authoritatively and supposedly are mentors, that’s going to be very, very attractive to you. And it doesn’t surprise me at all.
Allen: So these 22-, 23-year-olds graduate with the idea that America is inherently racist, that capitalism is a scheme just to line the pockets of the rich, and that America’s very founding is even corrupt. What happens when those young people then enter the workforce?
Breshears: Right. I talk about that in my piece in relation to the riots and just discord that we’ve been seeing for the past several months following the death of George Floyd.
I think there’s a mistaken assumption by, or at least there was a mistaken assumption by people on the right, that those kids who came out of college, who had been sold these ideas and who had eaten those ideas up, would be mugged by reality, as a lot of commentators phrase it.
That in a workplace, their intolerance and their sensitivity and their wrong views about the way the world works would be beaten out of them essentially by the more practical way that the workforce runs, and by their bosses and by the real world, by things like that.
But I think that’s clearly not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing people being fired from major companies for taking relatively normal political stances according to the rest of the country. And we’re seeing companies bend the knee to various far-leftist and postmodern conception societies.
To say that you are not comfortable with the political messaging of Black Lives Matter at a normal American company today is … I think people are scared to speak out about anything like that.
And so I think that unfortunately, conservative commentators might’ve been wrong about their idea that the real world would reform college students after they got out of school. I say it in my piece that they haven’t been mugged by reality, but they’ve set out on a mission to mug reality itself. And that seems to be what I’ve observed.
Allen: So then are universities more or less to blame for what we’re seeing across America right now in cities like Portland?
Breshears: I do think they are responsible for much of what we’re seeing, insofar as we encourage more and more children to go to university out of high school. It’s now almost a requirement to tell children that they need to go to college, that’s the way you succeed. …
And now that university has become a seminary school for the left, for leftist politics, of course I don’t understand how you wouldn’t be concerned that the people coming out of college are the people that are going to hold the highest and most prestigious positions in society, be it in politics, be it in industry, be it in—probably most importantly—in culture and media. They’re the people who are going to be dictating the norm to the rest of society, and they are also the youngest.
They’re the ones that will be incumbent in those positions for the longest time. And as they become increasingly more radical, we’re setting ourselves up for a future, at least a lifetime for each class that comes out, of those kinds of views dominating our culture. And so I think we’re exceedingly too sanguine about the effect that the universities have on the rest of our society.
And there’s no basis in fact for the idea that those ideas are confined to the university, or that they are an aberration that just is occurring on the university campus. They’re bleeding out into the rest of the world, and they’re going to continue unless we do something to reform the universities.
Allen: So, Madison, for those listening who are either college students or they’re getting ready to go to college, or maybe to send a kid to college, what advice would you give to them as they’re sitting in classes with obviously very progressive and even Marxist professors? Are there resources they should be turning to, or conversations they should be having? What would you say to them?
Breshears: I would say know [and] pick your battles, for sure. There’s some battles that aren’t worth fighting. The fact of the matter is we’ve let it go so far at the university, where at some point it might be in your best interest to get your good grades and get out of there. Same time, I think if there is a resource on campus … I know a lot of campuses have Young Americans for Freedom, College Republicans clubs on campus; if you can, join them.
Be around other people who are open to talking about different views on certain issues, which your school tends to regard as orthodoxy. I think there’s some merit to the idea of keeping your head down. But at the same time, I think students should be curious. They should question their professors insofar as it doesn’t lead to grade discrimination, which is always a fine line to walk.
But I think if more students were willing to question professors, engage in the dialogue, at risk to their own social standing, which was obviously something you have to grapple with, that universities would feel less free to pack the faculty with completely homogenous professors from the left. It’s a fine line to walk, and every student has to make the decision for themselves.
But I also wouldn’t encourage students, if they get into a great school and it’s a great opportunity … like for me Berkeley was; I’m the first kid in my family to go to college. And we could not have afforded for me to go to a private school. They shouldn’t let politics or let things like that get in the way of them going to a school like that.
I think as long as they stay strong and demand facts, … the dominant political ideology on campus shouldn’t be an impediment to them getting the credential that they earned.
Allen: Madison, thank you so much. We just really appreciate your boldness in speaking out on this issue and being willing to talk about a subject that is challenging. So thank you so much.
Breshears: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
This text was modified Aug. 13 to correct several errors in the transcript, including to use the word “meritocracy.”