For every public figure or pundit denouncing cancel culture — the wave of leftist coercion and censorship sweeping America’s institutions — there are many more who deny that such a thing even exists.
Before you believe the deniers, allow me to tell you what it’s like to find yourself in the jaws of this culture as a recent high-school graduate.
I wanted to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., because I sought a faith-based education. The university touts itself as “Catholic and Jesuit,” but I knew that as a conservative and a supporter of President Trump, my views were likely to be controversial. But I never imagined that months before ever setting foot on campus, I’d be subject to ridicule, incendiary comments and even death threats.
I was about to be “canceled” before moving into my dorm.
On June 7, I showed my support for Trump with a TikTok video: I danced with the Trump 2020 flag and a Marquette University poster in the background. The video caption said: “When people see that I support Trump. Then try to hate on me, and think I’ll change my views.”
Two students found the video online and tried to turn my life upside down. One called for me to be blackballed by all sororities and clubs. Another put together a pre-scripted e-mail, which her followers sent to Marquette faculty by the hundreds.
Other students attacked a TikTok comment I made about illegal immigration, because I used the term “illegal immigrant” instead of “undocumented immigrant.” Another highlighted a flippant comment I made on YouTube eight months ago about a pair of size-13 heels I found at a thrift store and referred to as “cross-dressing shoes.” I was told my comments were tantamount to violence against tall women and trans people.
The administration at Marquette took the side of those trying to cancel me. In July, the dean of undergraduate admissions, Brian Troyer, and the associate dean of students, Erin Lazzar, arranged a Zoom meeting with me. “The content you are pushing out has created this environment that is contrary to a learning environment that we hope our students are engaged in,” Lazzar said.
They were referring to my social-media support for the president, my belief that biological sex is immutable and my restrictionist position on illegal immigration — all views held by tens of millions of our fellow citizens on issues over which people can reasonably disagree.
During the discussion, the administrators emphasized that I wasn’t yet a student and that my admission wasn’t finalized. This implied threat came despite the fact that I had accepted my admissions offer, submitted the $500 deposit to secure my position and paid for my housing.
Most galling: Marquette administrators showed no interest in my wellbeing or in defending my free-speech rights. There has been no indication that the students who targeted me with mass harassment have been, or ever will be, disciplined. Marquette has made clear it isn’t committed to protecting the free expression of conservatives like me.
As it stands, I’m still going to attend Marquette. I’ve been encouraged and bolstered by allies like political-science professor John McAdams, who was recently reinstated after the school tried to fire him a few years back over a blog post, and attorneys at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, who assisted me as I navigated the process.
But I have no doubt that I’ll be targeted for cancellation again.
When people say there is no cancel culture, or that it only targets powerful people who think they should be above criticism, remember my story. I’m a teenager who expressed right-of-center views on social media and almost had my college career canceled.
Had I not publicized my case and lawyered up, I suspect the college administrators would have happily barred my education. This can’t be the culture we foster on campus. Debate and discourse — not harassment and leftist intimidation — should be the touchstones of our academic culture.
Otherwise, we risk the very fabric of our country.
Samantha Pfefferle is a rising freshman at Marquette University.
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