Surviving college at a big leftist university as a conservative woman is no task for the faint of heart. Even years ago at the University of Virginia, Karin Lips says, she found herself frustrated by the “liberal bias” in the women’s programs and groups on campus.
The message Lips said she got was that anyone on campus who “didn’t march in lockstep” with left-leaning women’s groups on campus “might as well give their woman card back.”
Lips says her experience at the University of Virginia prompted her to start the Network of Enlightened Women, or NeW, an organization for college-educated conservative women, and later to write the book “You’re Not Alone: The Conservative Woman’s Guide to College.”
Lips recently joined the “Problematic Women” podcast to answer our questions on how young conservative women can thrive even on the most radical colleges and universities.
Read a portion of the conversation below, or listen to the entire podcast, on which we also discuss the ongoing crisis at America’s southern border.
Virginia Allen: What do you think are the challenges that conservative women are facing on college campuses today, compared to what you faced?
Karin Lips: One thing I’ll mention that’s been fascinating for me to watch is that when I was on campus, it felt like the feminists were more confrontational and willing to come to events, and then maybe they’d try to take them over or they’d try to, you know, make their point when a speaker was talking.
But now, they’ve sort of taken on this view, many of them, that conservative voices shouldn’t even be heard. They shouldn’t have a platform, that for some reason, words are violence and that … giving them any voice is a problem on campus. So, there’s more silencing pressure, I would say.
And, taking it a step further, you know, over the years, we’ve seen bias from faculty and administrators. But we’re seeing this trend emerge of students sort of wanting to be the dictators themselves, and that they’re really censoring each other.
So, Virginia, as you mentioned, I run NeW [Network of Enlightened Women]. We’re chapter-based on college campuses. We’re having more chapters come to us and say that their student governments, you know, the student councils that are run by students, they have the power to approve clubs on many campuses and that they’re rejecting applications for NeW chapters for various reasons that don’t seem that fair or relevant.
Things like at one school, [where] they rejected the chapter because they said there was already a women’s organization. And that sort of makes the whole point, right, that we’re trying to make that, ‘Hey, we need more than one organization for women.’ We don’t all think the same. And actually having different voices is a good thing.
Allen: Your new book is “You’re Not Alone: A Conservative Women’s Guide to College.” It’s very practical, starting off with the big question of how to choose a college. Are there any colleges or universities that you would say are just too far left? That should be avoided? Or do you think there’s an argument to be made to look for some of those far-left colleges and universities and say, as a conservative woman, if you feel like you’re ready for the fight, go ahead and go there, start a NeW chapter and try to be a part of the change?
Lips: A great question. One of the themes that emerged from the book is just how important it is to be intentional. I think sometimes when people are picking colleges, they might pick more so based on factors like their favorite school football team. Or a bunch of schools advertise water parks or all-year-round snow [on] mountains, or these things that are exciting and maybe attractive.
But one of the messages I really want readers to take from this is you need to be strategic and intentional and think about what environment you are going to thrive in when you’re picking a school.
I begin the book with a whole chapter on how to select a college. One factor I think should be taken more into account is being more cost-conscious about college. And in particular, that the college matters, but also the major that you pick matters and how that can influence your career earnings and your prospects.
Another factor is, is this school a good environment for free speech? And one barometer for that is, has the school adopted the Chicago Statement? So, I think figuring out is this going to be an environment that’s open to free speech, or am I going to feel like I’m going to be silenced all the time? And I think it’s hard to make the case to go to a school where you feel like you’re going to be silenced all the time.
Allen: What are a couple of tips related to navigating far-left professors?
Lips: I’m glad you brought that up, because it’s something that some of our students really grapple with. And I imagine some of your listeners do, because it’s really hard when you’re in that student position and you have an unfair, liberal professor who’s just biased and not giving you the time of day.
So, I’ve got a whole chapter in there on dealing with hostile liberal professors. And it begins with a story of Peyton Smith, who, when she was a student at Seton Hall University, one of her professors told her to be careful after she shared a more conservative view. And she just really felt that threat, and I think many students really feel that threat and that sort of intimidation from some professors.
So in that chapter, I give some tips. One again, going back to that point about being intentional, is trying to talk to upperclassmen to figure out which professors to avoid. Because sometimes, especially if you’re at a big state school, you’ll have a lot of options for classes and professors. And for some, it’s just not worth engaging, and they should avoid, quite frankly.
Then for others, doing things like if you’re going to write a paper where you’re going to share a conservative view, you can cite an outspoken liberal to make a conservative point? Barack Obama gave a speech, years ago, on the value of free speech on campus, [so] citing him or [talk show host] Bill Maher, who has spoken on free speech. So, trying to share some tips about how you can try to make your points more persuasive by citing liberals.
And then also picking when you engage. I encourage readers to ask the question to themselves, of is it productive to engage on this point? Am I going to lose it? You know, ask if they’re going to move the conversation forward. Because I think sometimes just speaking up to speak up doesn’t always serve in their best interests. But speaking up, really being prepared, making their point strongly can benefit not just themselves but their classmates and can make it tougher for their professors to fight back.
And then I always recommend that students make sure they’re accurate on their sources. Because I think it is easy to read a headline, pull something, but really double-checking the sources, make sure they’re accurate when they’re making that point so that they can’t be tripped up by someone pointing out that their points are not accurate. I think that’s really important for conservatives, because they’ll get called out on it more on campus.
Allen: Well, Karin, for those who are either in college right now or they’re considering going to college, or they have a sister or a child who’s in college themselves, what would you say to them in regard to getting involved with a NeW chapter, or maybe starting a NeW chapter themselves? And if there’s a NeW chapter on their campus, share what the experience of being a part of a NeW chapter is like.
Lips: Being part of the community of NeW is important for young women because it gives them that intellectual home. It gives them that group of like-minded women with whom they can grow and also just develop those friendships. So I would encourage young women to check out our website, EnlightenedWomen.org, where they can look on the chapters page, see if we’ve got a chapter there, and if so, jump right in.
Becoming part of a chapter means that you get invited to go to fun social events [and hear] intellectual speakers. Many of our chapters have hosted speakers from The Heritage Foundation on different topics. You’ll get invited to some of our national programs. If you’re in leadership, including our leadership retreat, we provide scholarships to different national conferences.
So, it’s a great community to join, not only for the friendships or for the intellectual kind of development through the book clubs and policy papers that you read, but also for the career opportunities.
Allen: Thank you for joining us, Karin.
Lips: Virginia, thank you so much.
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