The Schools of "Becoming Right"

Robert VerBruggen

I’ve been working on an Academic Questions review of the book Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives. Given the slow pace of print publication, however, I’d like to unmask the book’s two main characters right away.

The book centers on two universities, “Western Flagship” and “Eastern Elite,” and also addresses some of Western’s satellite campuses. The authors confess that concealing the schools’ identities was not their preference: The review board at Eastern Elite made anonymity—for both schools, apparently—a requirement of talking to their students.

However, it’s simply impossible to cover schools with any degree of detail while keeping their identities a secret—even if some specifics are changed, as they are here. Eastern Elite is Harvard, and Western Flagship is the University of Colorado at Boulder. I have tracked down sources to confirm these conclusions, but I first arrived at them by searching Google for details that seemed unlikely to have been made up.

Eastern Elite has a former College Republicans president who’s Asian, a College Republicans membership that numbers in the hundreds, and a provocative student newspaper. A “top George W. Bush administration strategist” spoke there in 2008. Rick Santorum gave a speech that was sponsored by the conservative paper but not the College Republicans. Harvard’s College Republicans are called the Harvard Republican Club, but all of the other details line up.

Meanwhile, Western Flagship has a reputation as a party school, has a history with the hippie movement, and was the location of an “affirmative-action bake sale” that drew intense protests. Conservatives held an “empty holster” event to support concealed carry, and the school’s administration sent around a letter urging students not to panic. There was a “Why We Want to Kill You” event at which former terrorists spoke. There was an incident in which a member of the College Republicans accidentally hit “reply all” on an e-mail in which he insulted a minority student, calling this person an affirmative-action beneficiary. Again, all of the details, some rather specific, fit. Insider Higher Ed also noted the “strong resemblance,” pointing out that both schools have an “annual drug celebration.”

The purpose of Becoming Right is to explain how the culture of a campus affects how conservative students behave there. Knowing the identities of the campuses will help readers understand the events described. That concern overrides Harvard’s desire to manage its brand.

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