The past few weeks have been marked by a tension felt campus-wide. On Monday, October 23, Thelmo President R. Christopher Di Mezzo ’18 sent an email to the student body, faculty, and staff, detailing the plight of conservative students on St. Lawrence campus. He emphasized that many conservative students feel as though they were unable to freely express their viewpoints on campus without fear of retribution or judgment, stating: “Our conservative students have been silenced by our campus’s single voice of American progressivism – elitism. Our conservative students deserve better – they deserve to speak and they deserve to be heard.”
President Di Mezzo came under fire for his remarks soon thereafter. He received multiple emails from students, detailing their anger and frustration with his email, while other students- both past and present- voiced their irritation on Facebook.
While some students are happy about the recognition of the silence that shrouds conservatives at SLU, others disagree with the notion of their underrepresentation, stating that they are more than visible in the political dialogue of the current time. Many individuals, though, fall somewhere in between these two positions.
The most common complaint expressed by students dealt primarily with the language used by Di Mezzo in his email. At one point, Di Mezzo uses the term “underrepresented” to describe conservatives on campus. He writes, “The Thelomathesian Society has established a fund to support groups and ideologies on campus that can reasonably prove they are underrepresented in our community. Through this initiative, we will reboot the St. Lawrence University Republicans and seek to change our campus culture for the better.”
Some students have taken issue with the notion that conservative students are underrepresented on this campus, especially given the current political climate. As Catherine O’Connell ’18 states, “You can’t oppress the oppressor.”
Di Mezzo qualified his earlier statements in an interview with The Hill News, stating: “I think it’s important to remember that in no way are the experiences of conservative students and actually marginalized students comparable. They both deserve attention but it was never my intent to equate the two situations.”
Di Mezzo’s statements have not remained within the proverbial walls of the St. Lawrence campus. On October 27, Di Mezzo took his statement to the wider Canton community via an interview with North Country Public Radio (NCPR). In the interview, Di Mezzo clarified his earlier statements, specifically in regard to the notion that conservative students on campus felt “unsafe.” He stated, “I think they fear ridicule on campus. I think they fear that their friends will see them differently.” Thus, the notion of safety that he utilized in his email and later statements was expanded upon.
The clarification offered by Di Mezzo was not relayed in the title of the interview, though, which proclaimed: “Student leader says conservatives are “silenced” and “unsafe” on North Country campus.”
Di Mezzo emphasized his upset with the chosen title, stating: “I’m disappointed with the title chosen by NCPR – I believe it distorts the arguments presented in the piece and in some ways instigates a divisive sphere of discourse.”