Appeasement in the Academy

At Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, a student club with the expressed purpose of “the preservation, dissemination and extension of the Western moral and philosophical Tradition” is currently struggling to achieve official recognition from the college administration. Why? Because for a small group of social terrorists on campus, Winston Churchill is a symbol of white supremacy. Also, because we live in hell.

The Churchill Institute is one of a few groups scattered across the American academy that sees Western Civilization under attack, by outsiders and insiders, and has organized itself around its preservation in response.

Trinity’s Churchill Institute (CI) was founded during the 2015 school year by Gregory Bruce Smith, a professor of political science and philosophy. For the past few years, the club has maintained a relatively low profile, operating for the most part as an off-campus organization.

The group occasionally brings speakers to campus, once in conjunction with Young Americans for Liberty, once the former governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift, for lectures on the importance of free speech. CI publishes ​The​ ​Trinity Review​, a student newspaper offering an alternative perspective to the progressive status quo. The paper is open to ​all​ students and faculty for submission, just as the Churchill Institute itself is open to ​all​ students and faculty for participation and inquiry. This year, CI established its first student reading group; they are reading Leo Strauss’s Natural Right and History.​

How refreshing that there are still leaders in the academy living out the notion that it is imperative for well-educated people to defend the Western tradition by knowing the Western tradition. How heartening that there are young people who still feel that to know her is to love her.

It is standard procedure at most colleges that student clubs seek formal recognition by their respective school administrations in order to have priority access to reserve spaces on campus for events. This year, students involved in the Churchill Institute planned to establish a “Churchill Club” for this reason. But when the students leaders submitted the club and its constitution to the Student Government Association (SGA) for review, they became the targets of a slanderous social media and real-life intimidation campaign.

Nick Engstrom, class of 2022, is one of many students involved with the Churchill Club who has experienced an onslaught of attacks from activist peers attempting to prevent them from the apparently subversive act of reading and appreciating old books. These know-nothings either hide behind the anonymity of the internet or the darkness of night. And they are relentless.

An Instagram account for anonymous political organizers called “Militant Movement” and its followers doctored emails Engstrom had sent to student body to dispel nasty rumors about Churchill to make him look like a racist and called Engstrom and his comrades “pasty Klansmen.” They also published adulterated essays by Smith to the same effect, making them say the exact opposite of what was in the original text. All to inflame passions.

The slanderous campaign is not relegated to the virtual world. Engstrom opened his Instagram one day to find a direct message telling him to check his student mailbox. When he did, he found a threat that read, “Be careful what you wish for.” Engstrom has woken to strange and aggressive knocks on his door at night. He got up one morning to find flyers dispersed throughout the school with his picture on them and the caption, “New racism is just as bad as the old.” But these flyers were not the only ones circulated: several more targeted other members of Churchill personally, as well as the club generally. The billboard outside Smith’s office is littered with Post-It notes baselessly charging him with racism.

To be formally recognized, club leaders must take questions from members of SGA in public at an official meeting, so that everyone can get a better sense of the club’s mission, internal structure, and presence. When members of the Churchill Club first submitted themselves to questioning, Engstrom says he stood for 90 minutes while fellow students, who are not members of SGA but somehow coordinated to show up, berated him along these lines: “Is CI a white supremacist organization?” “Why are all of the authors you read old, white men?” “What will you do to ensure that your club is faithfully committed to diversity and inclusion?”

After that first meeting, SGA moved to postpone the decision on verifying the Churchill Club. In the meantime (a period of about five weeks), the student government decided to offer two town halls so that the concern trolls who’d been attempting to intimidate members of Churchill had a public forum for the airing of their baseless, insinuative grievances and ask Churchill Club members, once again, when they stopped beating their wives.

At the most recent SGA hearing on the matter SGA, heeding the recommendation of the administration, moved to postpone its decision again. The administration invented the entirely ad hoc requirement that the matter be submitted to a mediator.

There is one meeting left this semester before SGA adjourns for the summer. This will be the last chance for the Churchill Club to be recognized before next fall.

The obsequious silence of Trinity College, its professors, its administrators, and its board is deafening. Their policy of appeasement is inexcusable. As they hide behind layers of bureaucracy to absolve themselves of their responsibility to do what’s right, Rome burns.

Threats and slander

Is this a free speech issue, or something else? In summer 2017, Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams revealed to his social media followers his intense desire to see white people suffer and die. On June 16 of that summer, contributing to the conversation that ensued after Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot and nearly killed at a congressional baseball practice at a Virginia park, Williams made a Facebook post:

It is past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be “white” will not do, put an end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system. #LetThemF–kingDie.

He made several more posts on Twitter calling whites “inhuman.” Predictably, the media’s response to Williams’ statements (as well as the administration at Trinity) amounted to obfuscation and placation. Overnight, Williams became the victim of vague “threats” and calls for his firing.

The Hartford Courant published a story headlined, “Trinity Professor Flees Campus After Threats Over Facebook Comments, Issues Public Apology.” The article depicts the man—who had explicitly stated that all white people are racists, and that the rest of people should relish the moments in which white people died—as a father of young kids apparently fleeing for his life from agitated alumni. His comments were called “controversial.” Williams was sorry not for his words, but that they were “misinterpreted.” And according to the Courant, the “right-wing” publication Campus Reform had actually orchestrated a “hit on Johnny” by “misrepresenting” the words he’d clearly written.

Trinity College sent him on a paid vacation until it all blew over. They cited his freedom of speech in their defense of him. And the Churchill Club’s freedom of speech? Stunted on account of dog whistles only leftists can hear. The hypocrisy is staggering.

Freedom of speech is not the issue. Civilizational decay is. Right now, any discussion and inquiry about Western Civilization or the great men who made it must be rooted out, punished, or censored unless, of course, its purpose is to flagellate and score that civilization. Burn your books and take the knee because activist children know better. So we add “Western Civilization” to the ever-multiplying list of terms that refer to “Things that are definitely white supremacy” (in reality, just things the subversive Left despises).

And in each moment that list expands, we inch closer to a world in which the notion that Winston Churchill is literally Hitler is no longer preposterous.

This isn’t about white supremacy. This is about entropy. The new barbarians only seek to destroy. Their mission is to “dismantle systems of white supremacy.” When pressed, they admit that any system designed or influenced at all by white men is an iteration of white supremacy. The logic of total destruction follows.

What does it say if conservative professors at Trinity and elsewhere, people who care deeply about Churchill and the civilization he represents, are simply too terrified to come out and support these students and their professor? The Left has wrenched the Overton window so far in their direction that Winston Churchill is concealed from view. Winston Churchill. A great man of history. A man of culture. A fundamentally good man, however flawed. One of the best. There is simply no room for conservatives on campus, no room for heroes of Western Civilization. The destroyers of culture flail violently in their anger and ignorance. Onlookers are either too confused by or too scared of them to intervene.

The activists are right about one thing only: that Winston Churchill is a symbol of something greater than himself. Culture relies on its symbols to infuse us with self-knowledge, purpose, and gratitude. If we can’t have Churchill, nothing and no one is safe. If we can’t have Churchill, who are we?

This story is bigger than Trinity College. It’s bigger than the banning, firing, disinvitation, or protest of any individual thinkers from prominent universities across the country, including recently such great minds as Harvey Mansfield, Camille Paglia, and Roger Scruton. If Trinity College does not stand up for the Churchill Institute and student club by offering a strong condemnation of their opposition, they will have lost the battle and the war. And so will we all.

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Photo Credit: John F. Stephenson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

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