Reflections from a Law Firm Intern

Toward the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, I was in a panic. Not because of finals, not because of saying goodbye to friends for three months, but because I was trying to find work. I really wanted to aim high for the summer and find a job I would enjoy and make decent money. One day, I got the idea of messaging a guy I met a few years ago on Facebook. I wrote an article about his son and published it in the Houston Chronicle. After he read the article, he asked me to dinner. During our correspondence, I discovered that he was an attorney.

I messaged him with a simple request: did he know any other attorneys in the area who were offering jobs? I was (and still am) flirting with the idea of going to law school, and I figured that an internship at a law firm would help me decide whether it was a good idea. He got back to me and asked for my resume and transcript, then told me to call him later in the week. During the call, he asked me questions like, “Why do you want to work at a law firm?” and “What are your aspirations after college?” After answering these questions, a brief moment of silence ensued, followed by a simple, “Work starts at 8:30 AM, dress is business casual.”  I was so elated and surprised that I had unknowingly taken and passed a job interview that I stuttered out my thanks.

Even though I was excited, I was a little embarrassed to send over my transcript. I had not taken any classes in law and knew next to nothing about the specifics of the legal system. But, since I had already landed the job, I knew it wouldn’t hurt my chances of getting hired. Later, my boss would tell me those types of courses don’t matter so much in undergrad.

When I started working, my expectations were blown away. I was working as a paralegal (a job that I was woefully unprepared for and required a lot of learning and improvisation to keep up) and had to use skills that I never thought I would be using in a law office. My boss was very trusting of me, but he never gave me a task that I was completely incapable of handling. He was tough, but fair (I should add that he was a Marine helicopter pilot who did three tours in Vietnam). He recognized my strengths and never failed to chastise me if I underperformed. However, my boss was understanding when I made mistakes, even though he always made sure I got yelled at whenever it was appropriate.

My boss chose to take a learn-as-you-go approach with a few tips of advice here and there. Personally, I would say that I learned more in three months at a law firm than I did in two years at Trinity. I am absolutely pessimistic about learning a lot of life skills in university. Granted, there are some departments that provide skills that are absolutely valuable in almost every job out there. The Foreign Languages and Computer Science departments come to mind. Throughout the course of my internship, I learned that courses in art, anthropology, economics, and psychology would be very helpful in law. That advice only gave me a small boost of optimism in my education, but I trust my boss a lot more than I do our education system. 

Trinity has never taught me the skills needed to succeed in a fast-paced, high-level work environment. Aside from the level of computer knowledge needed in a paralegal capacity (most of law is actually not spent in a courtroom, but in front of a computer working with data), most of the skills I developed and needed to use were skills that can never be cultivated in a place like Trinity. A school that doesn’t trust its own students to take care of their needs is not the best place to learn accountability for mistakes and learning when to voice complaints (in my dad’s words, “This place is like a resort!”). Habits developed here can be disastrous in a real job. Skipping a class has far fewer consequences than skipping out on work. Small mistakes here are not the same as small mistakes in a job. Arguing with a professor is way different than arguing with a boss. You get the point.

I imagine that’s the reason why college students are constantly urged to find work while in school. To that end, I’m grateful to my boss and my coworkers for being patient with me and willing to take the time to teach me what I needed to know while working. I was misty-eyed on my last day of work: I really found a sense of purpose in what I was doing and my coworkers set a high bar in terms of what I expect out of any future coworkers. I really enjoyed working at the law office. I will never forget the cases I worked on, the clients I met, the trips I went on, and the evidence I sifted through. Those moments where I felt like I was doing more than being productive and earning my pay, but doing something meaningful: bringing justice where it’s due. The best days were those where I left work in a good mood, something I never thought possible. But I imagine that’s what a dream job is like: productive, meaningful, and worthwhile. 

The week I was due to leave, I was helping my boss carry items out to his car in the garage. He wasn’t much of a small-talk guy, but he knew how to make use of whatever alone time he had with me.

“So, are you excited to go back to school?” He asked in his usual flat, brittle voice, accentuated by a light country accent. 

“Not really,” I responded.

My boss hits the elevator button. “Why is that?”

A million words zoomed through my head, there were several ways to respond to that. Don’t want to go back. I hate going to school. I prefer living in Houston over San Antonio. Have to say goodbye to family. Of course, one reason stuck out.

“I’d rather be working here than going to school.”

The elevator doors opened, and we both got in. I continued.

“I just absolutely loved working here. I have a lot more motivation to work here than I do going to school.”

My boss gives a quick glance in my direction, furrowing his bushy eyebrows. “Yeah, it’s not going to be the same without you.”

At that moment, the anxiety of not knowing whether or not I had done enough at my job was lifted. And I knew I had done something right.

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Californian Refugee

When I first told my mom that I wanted to go to school in Texas, she was shocked. Of course she was happy for me, but she was understandably confused. I had grown up in Southern California my whole life, as had both my parents. Most of my family lived very close to me, and I felt that everything I would ever need or want was right there. We don’t know anyone in Texas, or anywhere near Texas for that matter. We are a California people, after all. Despite all this, I felt some draw to the great state of Texas and I left for school in the fall of 2017.

I have been labeled a “Californian refugee” by my peers who maintain a particular distaste for my home state, and I am tempted to agree with them. I suppose this term means that I was driven out of my coastal home by negative experiences, and I was led to settle somewhere much better for me. I found this term insulting at first, as I still felt some ties or obligations towards California. Since then I have learned that I can only life a full, fruitful life if I move on from my past, even while appreciating where I come from.

It took me a while to accept my love for Texas. I felt like a foreigner in a completely different country. There are so many cultural oddities here that I haven’t seen anywhere else and that I wasn’t at all expecting. The first time I went to a large event, the crowd said the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. Afterwards, I was totally befuddled when everyone went straight into a pledge to the Texas flag. The concept of Texas Independence Day was completely foreign to me. I’ve seen hotel waffle makers that pop out Texas-shaped breakfast. 

I am told this is all totally normal, but I was certain I was being punk’d for a long time. The culture shock was real and the change was quite abrupt. Something about it intrigued me and I was left feeling somewhat unsure of where I belonged. 

I found it refreshing in comparison to the Californian attitude. Way out on the west coast, everything is busy and cramped. There’s tremendous pressure to do every activity available, because God forbid you waste a minute not appreciating that you live in California. There’s a lot to love about California and the variety and beauty it has to offer. However, I never felt like the state’s culture was something I understood or fully appreciated. I love going to the beach, but unlike my peers, I never felt it was a part of my personality. I could never see myself fully accepting the language or the politics that are a part of everyday life there.

Even though I couldn’t identify with the Californian attitude, I still didn’t want to love Texas at first. I told myself that I wouldn’t; I insisted that I would always return home to California. Finally, after a year of resisting, I gave into loving my new state. However, I am stuck between two ideals. I don’t feel like I can ever be a true Texan, as I spent no part of my formative childhood years here, and I feel that no native Texan would take me seriously as one of them. Yet I also don’t feel like a Californian, because that culture never sat quite right with me. 

So, I am a refugee. I come from somewhere far away, and I left my home feeling relatively aimless. But I found a new home and a new place to belong. I will never be a native of Texas, and I know I need to accept the exclusion I will inevitably feel for that. I can appreciate where I came from and how much my home has done for me, but there is also tremendous life and opportunity to be found elsewhere.

Image by Samantha Farnsworth.

Unity, from the Ground Up

Yellowstone National Park was my family’s home for three days in July this year. I remember craning to see it in the distance on our way there, watching the cloud shadows spreading across the rumpled mountains like thin gray silks. We spent the days seeing the lakes and cascades and geysers, one of which was a steaming, bubbling cave called “The Dragon’s Mouth.” (I had to search up that name—my dad, short of memory, kept calling it “The Devil’s Asshole,” which became the only name I remembered). A herd of Canadian tourists crowded the rim, conversing in their twangy French about the buffalo that was lying right by the geyser with all the regality and poise of a classical statue.

“BISON ARE WILD AND AGGRESSIVE. DO NOT APPROACH,” warned signs all across the park. The park service also heavily advised the use of bear spray (which, like bug spray, I thought you were supposed to apply all over your skin to repel them), but the only bear we ever saw was a black bear the size of my little brother that fumbled across a grassy swale alongside the road, causing a traffic jam of Asian photographers. The rangers also swore that hiking without two or three changes of wool socks would guarantee certain death and hung diagrams in the bathroom which sternly instructed people not to squat like a gargoyle atop the toilet while pooping.

Despite their fearful advertisements, the park isn’t all that strict on safety measures, because they don’t need to be. Hundreds of tourists sat around Ol’ Faithful every hour to watch it go off, but nobody ever left the benches around the geyser and stumbled into the blowhole. Only a split-rail fence stood between my family and LeHardy Falls, but nobody careened into the river. Along with the rest of the tourists, we just watched the rainbow glisten in the churning spray before going back to our campground for lunch.

Yellowstone’s fame and beauty bring in campers from all around, and they pack them in the campground like sardines. My mother helped an Australian college student wash his dishes; a Mormon from South Africa let my little brother borrow his maul to split wood; we met a family from Minnesota who played Frisbee with us and shared their firewood with the Chinese family next to them; I showed the son of an Indian immigrant couple how to start a fire with flint and steel while his dad talked with my Aggie older brother about Texas A&M, which turned out to be his alma mater.

Eventually I realized the great miracle: here before us was a diverse, safe, and friendly community, but guiltless and spontaneous. Here was the reality that progressives had been promising to create in America for decades, but free of the quotas, the protests, and the coercion that were all supposed to be part of the necessary sacrifice. Here was a fractured America made whole. All it took was a common love—in this case, a common love for the natural beauty of our country. Next to Kepler Cascade, I saw a paunchy, knife-sporting redneck straight out of a political cartoon cheerily letting a black family pat his German shepherd. I’m fairly sure I even saw a camo hijab. Watching elk graze beneath the mottled shade of pine trees, or feeling our lungs tighten in the cold blue water of the lake, or bending life into our fingers above the morning campfires that burned bright with the sap-soaked wood and sent smoke up to mingle with our steaming breath, we camped together at the convergence of uncountable paths all winding to the alluring majesty of the American West. It was not the park administration or social forces that compelled us, but a common love, hardly found and easily forgotten. I wondered what such common loves were left for us to gather around back home.

As we left the park, my father read Psalm 46 to the family while I struggled to hoard in my head the sights that I probably will never see again: the tufts of steam glowing atop the rivers in the cold dawn; the pillars of geyser smoke rising from the faraway woods like unmanned, eternal campfires; the buffalo watching us alongside the road, disinterested and hulking sentries. As we passed from the woods and into civilization over the golden slats of sunshine that beamed through the pine and lay across the road, the bristling mountains slowly became just purple paper cutouts pasted onto the distant skyline.

Playing a Part in Chip Roy’s Victory

As the tension and excitement from midterms finally comes to a close, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my involvement in Chip Roy’s campaign in Texas’s 21st congressional district.

Though I attend school in San Angelo and live in Mike Conaway’s congressional district, I was offered the opportunity to engage voters through blockwalking and phone banking for Chip Roy in an important race against Democrat Joseph Kopser. Having never worked on a campaign before, I was excited to be part of this deployment and get a taste of what “real politics” are like. The dynamic was impactful and increased my sense of respect for those who do this more regularly.

Elections are often seen as a snore to the apolitical crowd, as those who don’t engage don’t know what it takes in terms of campaigning to get someone elected. While I don’t claim to now be an expert, I can affirm that the process requires dedication beyond measure.

I rolled into San Antonio the Thursday evening before election day, and got started right away on Friday morning. After some quick training on blockwalking and how to handle the app we were using, I was ready to engage some voters on my own. Having familiarized myself with Chip’s conservative platform beforehand, I felt good about representing him and his campaign as I went door to door in Bexar County.

While most of the people I ended up talking to had already voted, the concern of many seemed to be the issue of abortion. Chip Roy’s position is clear and easily articulated, as he believes in preserving and protecting life. Because of this, he received endorsements from both Texas Right to Life and National Right to Life. As I explained this to those who inquired, I knew it would compel voters who felt strongly on this issue to get to the polls if they had not already. Later on, our team was lucky enough to meet Chip for lunch, where our respect for his authenticity and principles was solidified.

Reaching these voters takes dedication from both staff and volunteers. It is by no means appealing to walk hundreds of miles over the course of election season in order to get out the vote, but it is beyond effective in cultivating a culture to get voter turnout. That’s what campaigning is all about. It’s one of the few industries that can’t be outsourced or replaced with automation. It requires boots on the ground, inspired people willing to sacrifice time to achieve change for the greater good. It is something that requires you to care.

Blockwalking during the days leading up to an election will naturally put you into contact with an eclectic mixture of people- dedicated voters, people who couldn’t care less, people who just want this whole politics thing to be over. All of it comes down to election day, which I spent with fellow supporters of Chip Roy who were hoping for the best while working the polls in San Antonio. Few people come to the polls willing to change their mind, though we were willing to engage people if need be.

After our hours of walking, making phone calls, and growing to really care about the outcome of this campaign, the watch party in New Braunfels began. Though Chip Roy was projected to win, we couldn’t help but feel ecstatic when he got up on stage to make the announcement that his victory was looking pretty clear. The feeling of seeing the work you pour into something like this pay off is hard to articulate, but it is phenomenal, to say the least.

I’m not from San Antonio, and won’t officially be represented by Chip Roy, but I’ll always have a special sense of respect for his office. He is beyond principled and I have no doubt that he will take his role in Washington, D.C. seriously. I also have a new sense of respect for those who dedicate countless hours working hard to get the most respectable leaders elected, and I look forward to seeing Chip represent Texans with our values in mind in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I’ll never forget the hard work I put into this, and the great results that followed. While we aren’t always promised a victory, understanding the sense of dedication that goes into getting someone like Chip Roy is a lesson that can only be learned by going through it. And the few days I had to learn this dynamic will serve me as I grow and cultivate my career, whether or not it be political.

A Walking Contradiction

The main human physical characteristics – race, age, and gender – tend to shape our political identity. Historically, one’s race, age, and gender would determine if one leaned to the left or to the right. For instance, if you were a white male, you would most likely hold conservative beliefs. If you were a female or a person of color, you would most likely hold more liberal views. Older people would base their beliefs on tradition, so many people concluded that they were conservative.  These assumptions still exist in today’s society.

Why do these assumptions exist? In American and many other societies, history writes that men were dominant over women, white people were dominant over people of color, and that older people held on tight to traditions. The American government gave more rights to white males. These men were less likely to support changes that would give women or people of color the same rights. Hence, the reasoning for white males to mostly hold conservative viewpoints. Tradition was important to them, so white males mostly wanted to keep their higher position in society. Young people, females, and people of color were more likely to demand change for the same rights. Demanding for social equality and the same rights as white men was considered to be a very liberal idea at the time.  

In today’s society, to be liberal is to advocate for progressive changes to the current way of life and for more government involvement in society. To be conservative in today’s society is to advocate preservation of traditional values and to encourage limited government in society. Today’s liberalism and conservatism is a little bit different than it was in the earlier stages of U.S. history. However, some aspects remain the same. For the most part, young people, racial minorities, and females are the ones who promote drastic changes to the way the American government deals with society. For example, most people assume that a young, African-American female identifies as politically liberal. But only because of her age, race, and gender. People take one look, and automatically assume a person’s political beliefs. This happens to me quite often.

I was born on June 1, 1999 in Changsha, Hunan, China. So, I am not originally from the United States. I am of Chinese and Samoan descent.  Technically speaking, I am considered an immigrant. For a little while, I possessed a green card for permanent residency in the United States.  It is 2018 now, and I am only 19 years old. These physical characteristics listed here meet the stereotypical aspects of a typical liberal, progressive, or leftist.  However, I do not identify as any of these things.

I am a conservative person who happens to be a young woman of a Chinese and Samoan descent. My age, race, and gender does not classify me into a certain political group. However, these stereotypes of physical characteristics defining one’s political identity still exist. This goes both ways. People assume the majority of white males are politically conservative. I know so many men who are definitely not conservative. I also know some young racial minorities who are conservative. This culture of assuming one’s political identity because of one’s age, race, or gender should deteriorate. One’s age, race, and gender should not categorize him or her into a certain political group. Just because someone is a minority does not necessarily mean he or she is left-wing. Neither conservative principles nor liberal principles state one must look a certain way to believe the way he or she does. There is no rule requiring certain physical characteristics for each political identity. However, many folks seem to think that there exists a certain rule book to follow. I hope to see more people abandon these assumptions, and to expect astonishing results from everyone they meet.

Vegetarianism and Conservatism

Growing up in a Catholic conservative household, there was always a right way to do things, from going to church on Sundays to turning the other cheek. I never found much hardship in following any of these standards in my life; they just seemed like the right thing to do. I rarely made any lifestyle changes that my parents did not approve. As I got older, though, I started to challenge some beliefs. Most of the time I would come to the conclusion that my parents’ takes on those beliefs were right. When the Bible and the Constitution are there to lay out the rules, they’re made pretty clear.

This routine went on for a while, and I hardly challenged any of my beliefs anymore. But, one day in my high school economics class, we had a guest speaker and she announced that our talk was going to be about factory farming. Naturally, I assumed the talk would be about animal cruelty and such. I had seen videos in the past where celebrities talk about why they stopped eating meat as they showed clips from gruesome slaughterhouses in the background, but I always just ignored these because, hey, I liked meat.

Judging from the first few minutes, this class presentation was different. Instead of repulsive slaughterhouse videos, the presenter was showing us how factory farms impact the environment and people. No matter how you feel about animal cruelty, it isn’t sustainable for anyone. Producing food to feed and fatten up these 1 billion animals killed every hour in the United States (USDA 2015 U.S Slaughter Totals, by Species) is killing forests and that we’re running out of places to put the waste …and that they treat animals horribly. That day I decided to stop eating meat.

My parents were not enthused and insisted that I forget about it. They showed me passages in the Bible where it was seemingly evident that I was supposed to eat meat. However, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I lasted about three months as a full blown vegetarian until I compromised with eating meat once a week. This allowed me to feel good about my efforts while at the same time alleviating my cravings.

After a while, I figured that as a conservative, I should have some reasons why I can be simultaneously conservative and mostly vegetarian. It honestly stumped me for a long time, until I took it back to the basics of conservatism. What it really comes down to is the free market, where people can do whatever they want until they realize that it’s not personally feasible. This ties in well to vegetarianism, veganism, or even pescetarianism. When a person makes any decision to purchase or not purchase a product, it influences the market. It may be a small change, but it is a change.

There isn’t anything inherently conservative or liberal about vegetarianism. It’s all about how a person chooses to pursue it. If a person isn’t happy about how the animals are being treated or how the waste is being disposed of, then he should seek another firm or product all together. What shouldn’t be done is demand that these business be required to be transparent or request government regulations regarding anything someone sees wrong with the company.

In the end, I’m not a conservative vegetarian. I am a conservative that practices vegetarianism in a conservative way. Similarly, there are liberal vegetarians out there, but they really just practice vegetarianism in a liberal way- i.e., demanding government intervention.With the percentage of obese Americans being 39.6 in 2015-2016 (Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016) and the poverty rate being 12.7 percent in 2016 (Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016), the demand for cheap, accessible food is high and thus supply must be as well. Any government regulation that limits the amount of cheap, accessible food will not be very popular for the poor or obese. Rather than limiting these choices, people who see problems with the factory farming industry  should feel free to refuse service, spread the word, consult with the company, or all of the above.

When My Twin Brother Became My Twin Sister: A Personal, Political, and Religious Perspective

Editor’s Note: The following piece is a half of a point-counterpoint regarding libertarian and traditional conservative perspectives on transgenderism. Find the other half, written by Alex Jacobs, here.

For me, it all started one afternoon after school last May when my then-brother asked me to come meet with him and my mom downstairs in my parents’ bedroom.

“What I’m about to tell you will change the way you see me forever,” he told me. Within ten minutes, he proved himself right.

For my twin, it had started long before.  What he revealed that afternoon was that over the past two years he had slowly begun to realize that he was a transgender female. My brother talked about the private and group therapy sessions that he attended with my mom to help with the gender dysphoria he had been dealing with for the past several years.

To cope with these feelings, he had gotten a separate room in our house not because he wanted his own room (which he told me at the time), but because he wanted to crossdress in private. Additionally, my brother said that he prioritized trans-friendly dormitories on college tours.

Before that day, I had given little thought to transgender issues. It would have been easy for me to say to a transgendered individual, “I’m fine with you identifying as whichever gender you choose.” But it’s quite another thing to say that to your twin.

At first, I was open to it, but as time moved on and as my sister’s transition moved forward, I realized that my adjustment was going to be hitting speed bumps very quickly.

The first time I saw my sister dressed as a female was when we went to her therapist as a family. She was determined to cosmetically resemble a female. She wore her most feminine-looking clothes, put on some makeup, and wore a wig. On the way to the session, my sister kept asking me how she looked and if she “passed” (successfully looking the part of her desired gender).

I was torn, and for the greater part of the car ride and the session, I didn’t want to look at her. I just couldn’t; it was too much to digest at once. I chose to stay silent and look the other direction. I remember thinking, “This is going to be a lot harder than I expected.” That was putting it lightly.

After the session with her counselor and throughout the summer, my sister rarely dressed as a female, which made it more difficult for me to begin to understand and accept her for when she would begin to physically transition to being a female. She still went by her birth name and male pronouns, which made me doubt her commitment to her transition. Perhaps I needed another perspective.

I consider myself a political activist, so it was not enough to simply accept my sister as transgender. In other words, my aspirations to be involved in politics would become more complicated as others might see my twin as a source of controversy. I wanted to be educated to prepare myself for the inevitable debates I would be involved in, so I delved into reading various articles and even attended a transgender family support group. My goal became to know as much about the issue not only from a personal perspective, but to understand transgender political and cultural issues.

I watched debates on YouTube. I started seeing a counselor at my university. I looked at peer-reviewed studies from top scholars. I prayed to God, asking Him for help and guidance on an issue that my church has failed to adequately and extensively address—much less accept. My inability to make headway with reality coupled with my own grief over ‘losing’ my brother translated into more anger. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. I started to resent being a member of the 6% of American adults who have a transgender family member. I realized that turning to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community would not help; after all, I believed in the gender binary (a thought crime in LGBT circles), so that avenue wasn’t an option.

Eventually, I expressed this emotion to my sister; I had to let her know how I was feeling, and I needed somewhere to vent. I was driving us both back from a restaurant when I voiced my anger about my shortcomings in coming to grips with her transition. I will never forget what she said to me in reply: “Original thought is not easy to come up with, and I can only tell you to do more research.”

It was the last thing I wanted to hear; it pissed me off, but she was right. I had to think more. But, not just that: I had to think smarter. I happen to be someone who believes in the “live and let live” mantra, so I worked from that approach.

I tackled the issue from a religious point-of-view. I am a Roman Catholic, so I looked to the Bible for support, and, since it has nothing explicit to say about transgenderism (although Genesis 1:27 says that God created “male and female”), I looked to its teachings about tolerance, of which there were plenty.

One verse stood out to me: Luke 15:2, which reads: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” There is also a point in the Gospels where Jesus sits down with several people whose lifestyles were considered abhorrent at the time and has dinner with them (Matthew 9:10). What’s striking about these people is that, in society’s view, they were considered the lowest of the low: thieves, prostitutes, tax collectors. I realized that no matter how many genders I believe exist, I had a civic duty and a religious obligation to see my sister as she has always been: a person with the same inalienable rights as every other human being. That’s how Christ viewed the so-called ‘social deviants’.

Over the past several months, I have realized what tolerance is and is not. Tolerance is recognizing another person’s right to exist, regardless of differences of opinion or belief systems. I made it clear to my sister that I would not play an adult version of ‘pretend’. An effort had to be made on her part to look, breathe, act, and talk like a female. If she was to be treated and addressed as a female, she had to look the part.

We mutually agreed that I would address her by her proper pronouns whenever she presented as female and that I would respect her decision to transition, despite my viewing her transition as morally questionable. This, I believe, is tolerance at its best: a compromise that is founded on mutual respect for one another’s opinions and livelihoods.

Furthermore, tolerance is what I believe our country is about—people with mutual respect and acceptance for one another who recognize every other person’s right to live their own lives as they see fit without interference from anyone else.

Nowadays, I would say that my sister and I are much closer in our relationship as siblings than we were before she transitioned, and we get along well. This is what I want to reflect in our society, one that is predicated and built on individualism, human rights, and tolerance. I want to work for a future for my sister, myself, and my country which is more tolerant, more understanding, and more free for all of us.

At the end of the day, we’re all Americans with the same inalienable rights. As St. Paul said to the Ephesians, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Our Conservative Future

By Mandfred Wendt 

I fear that recent trends in the conservative movement may be for the worse, that we may be losing focus. Since I began my involvement in May of 2015 when Ben Carson announced his candidacy for President of the United States, one trend in the conservative movement has continued to bother me: the obsession young conservative activists, including myself, have developed towards “triggering.” I must admit that I was a part of this trend, as I did bring Milo Yiannopoulos to my quiet liberal campus.

Over time I matured, evolving from a “constitutional conservative” my freshman year of college to a raging libertarian my sophomore year before setting on Natural Law Conservatism: the belief that the world is governed by universal norms that we all know.  I have led a campus club for libertarians and conservatives for almost the entirety of my time at college.

Over the same time, the way I carried myself on campus changed as well. During my younger years, much of my focus went to figuring out which methods would be most effective in “triggering” the other side. From setting up a table in the campus commons to attract new members, to the quality of the speakers I brought to campus, to submitting a rather brash opinion column in the post-Trump election issue of my school newspaper, I came up with a plethora of ways to make students on my campus uncomfortable.  I regret the way I went about some of these activities. Sometimes, it made people in my camp who were less confident or comfortable being known as a conservative on campus decide not to join my organization.

Making the other side uncomfortable can be an useful way to get them to see a situation in a different light. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, it can also infuriate them and ensure they vote against your side the next time an election occurs. “Triggering” the campus left has its uses, but it also has consequences. On a college campus, conservatives are severely outnumbered. Upset them enough and the left  will organize and turn your college into the next Evergreen.

Our time could be better spent informing the other side about the value of our ideas. Yelling that abortion is murder could easily be replaced by politely informing the person you are conversing with about the biological facts that one must ignore in order to be pro-abortion without a guilty conscience. Yelling about safe spaces could be replaced with explaining the importance of the free exchange of ideas.

As college activists become more obsessed with triggering the campus opposition, we fall further from the ideological bedrock on which conservatism stands on. Conservatism works because it is a set of ideas that properly interprets human nature as found in Natural Law and set in a belief in a transcendent moral order. Triggering people doesn’t impress this truth on them. Conservatism works because it echos deep truths.

Conservatives waste valuable time attempting to trigger campus opposition instead of conversing and exchanging ideas with their ideological opponents. When it comes to ideas, our ideas win. Most political interactions with progressives result in a drone-like recitation of the progressive hat dance, that is declaring whatever the conservative stance is to be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or any other number of conversation-stopping words.

Up until this year, my organization thrived off of controversy. Every semester we would start with a group of 20 students and be whittled down to six or seven by the end of the semester. This semester, instead of focusing on generating controversy, we focused on facilitating discussion. We asked our members to think outside the box, and to question their own ideas. We encouraged them to never let a talking point suffice for an answer, and instead to respond with a “yes, but why?”. This approach helped our members develop their own thoughts on a plethora of topics instead of rehashing talking points.

At the end of the semester, we still had 15 active members, a massive increase over the previous semester. Over the course of the semester, I made sure to take time to encourage my members to intellectually sustain themselves on by reading great conservative texts and seeking out alternative opinions beyond Fox News or National Review. This winter, I offered every member the opportunity to take a book home from my library so that they could come back to campus in January more informed than they left. Most took me up on it.

As a movement, we need to be in the business of creating what one might call “warrior-monks,” not trigger-happy trolls. The warrior-monk of today should aspire to be like the warrior-monks of old, that is the Knights Templar, the Naga sadhus,  or the Japanese sohei. We need to create individuals who understand the ideology and are willing to engage the other side—individuals who emulate the qualities of warrior-monks. These warrior-monk conservatives bring about a whole host of benefits, as they not only know why the other side is wrong, but also why their side is right.

They can discuss issues of taxation, government intervention, foreign policy and social welfare with ease. But the warrior-monk must also be able to discuss deeper truths. He should possess an ability to defend the great tradition of western civilization, natural law, and the nature of man.

Learning about these deeper truths places the warrior-monk in a prime position to seek employment in the conservative movement after graduation. Beyond dedicating one’s life to this cause, there are other benefits to the warrior-monk if he decides not to go a different route. By understanding the deeper truths, the warrior-monk can raise children with conservative values and improve society by creating good citizens. The path of creating a new generation of conservatives is just as important as fighting for the current conservative movement; we must all keep the future in mind. Every coming generation is just as important as the one that passed.

As young conservatives, we stand at a pivotal time in our movement. Down one path lies continued and increased devotion to triggering, on focusing solely on upsetting as many people as we can possibly upset within our college communities. The other path is that of the warrior-monk. We should become informed and well-read on what we believe and why. We should be people whom others respect because we are informed on a plethora of issues and can defend the stances we hold.

I would encourage all conservatives to take time to read the intellectual giants of conservatism, like Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and William F. Buckley—to name a few. If you are wanting to dedicate your life to the movement understanding the great ideas upon which our ideology is built is crucial. The foundation you lay as a young conservative is the bedrock you will stand on when you are doing things that matter.

Remember: the journey one embarks on as a conservative is no small endeavor. As the National Review’s mission statement says, we must  “[stand] athwart history, yelling ‘Stop,’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

Against Modern Fate

One recent night, in the midst of classic midnight dorm room discussion, my good friend Jonathan brought up the knotty topic of mental health: how much can one blame outside encouragement, to put it lightly, for things like suicide? More generically, to what extent is the mind controlled by influences beyond our reach?

To understate it, suicide is a touchy issue. It’s tragic, heart-ripping, and often unexpected and incomprehensible. For many developed countries, it is the scourge of our time, and it goes far too unnoticed until it becomes politically expedient to notice it. Lately, the Left has seized upon mental health issues, a trend that had me initially confused. We continue to see the general social campaign tactics, like raising awareness and fighting stigma and so forth, but there’s little about those things that conservatives should argue with. Indeed, conservatives should hold dear the intrinsic value of every life. There should not be political disagreement over mental health issues, and there really hasn’t been; it’s a new phenomenon. But why? Especially on university campuses, why are so many progressives digging subterranean battle trenches under this rare spot of accord? Why make mental health an issue?

I ended up conversing heatedly with my friend Rohan, an ambitious and passionate future neuroscientist, about a subject I knew very little about: the brain. Being an English major but a champion bullshitter (the two actually tend to go hand in hand), I wasn’t about to back down from a battle, one-sided though it may have been. Biological influence came into play after Rohan held that conditioning could influence the brain beyond one’s control. Eventually, so the argument went, one develops an obligation, like Pavlov’s dogs, to simply respond. Suicide is only an extreme example, a result of perhaps years of such ‘conditioning’ that could assumedly cause other mental illnesses.

Although rohan may not have known it, he made a great case for the safe space. The battle for free speech right now is being fought in academia, but it’s not being fought well. Leftist professors and pseudo-academics are increasingly churning out support for the argument that language can present clear and present danger. After all, if we are nothing more than the product of some haphazard chemical processes and the oppressive shaping of our society, blame gets shifted around a bit. Safe spaces have borne their fair share of ridicule over the course of their recent intrusion, but few conservatives get to the core of why they’re so fundamentally wrong. It’s more than just pampered elitists getting easily offended; after all, the contemporary Left brands itself as dangerous, nonconformist and hard-hitting, breaking socially constructed oppressive barriers with a judo chop of some kind that isn’t an appropriation of East Asian cultures. In their own eyes, the radical Left is all about invading traditionally “safe” spaces like the church or the academy or the Boy Scouts. The campus safe space issue goes deeper than just a liberal double standard. While conservatives have correctly gone after safe space’s repercussions against free speech, they tend to fall short of attacking the root of the problem.  Repression of free speech in the academy springs from the idea that a person is the result of his (xis?) environment. Whether that environment is of nurture or nature (is not the body an environment of the mind?) is of little difference, and both arguments are utilized and interlinked; the main point is that the onus of personal responsibility is shifted from the actor to some other source, a trigger, if you will. The Left causally links trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and other mental disturbances to external factors, typically the great boogeyman of oppression. Take, for example, ReAnn Pickett’s Time Magazine article: “Safe spaces can have powerful therapeutic purposes for those who enter them. . . . A lack of safe spaces can compound the mental toll of racism, even subtle racism. . . . A critical phase of healing involves reclaiming power and control in positive ways.” (http://time.com/4471806/trigger-warnings-safe-spaces/) A more thoughtful, less identity-based article by Ashutosh Bhagwat and John Inazu likewise supports the idea of a safe space on psychological grounds, additionally comparing safe spaces to socially important places of association like taverns in pre-Revolutionary America or gay bars in the 60s (https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2017/03/21/easily-caricatured-safe-spaces-can-help-students-learn-essay). Anywhere you look, whether the author has “owner of ten cats” or “Nelson Mandela Fellow at Yale University” after their name, the argument will remain much the same: safe spaces are necessary for psychological healing and social change. For the critical Left, it’s about more than just exposure to different ideas: it’s about first establishing the right to exist, about preventing psychological issues that lead to grade slippage, rage, obesity, death, you name it. Conservatives should not diminish the value of these issues. Instead, we should examine the faulty logic of the safe space argument.

The state of modern academia leads us to leave the dubious link between white guy dreads and impending mental illness alone for right now. Additionally, no one could reasonably dispute that conditions like PTSD are indeed externally triggered. Like I said, conservatives should take mental health issues seriously. However, taking an issue seriously doesn’t mandate the acceptance of liberal thought. More fundamentally important is the thesis that the actions of another person and one’s own psychology can force one outside the realm of their own judgment. Marxism always requires a victim, double entendre intended, and thus requires an oppressor, too. Arguably, it may just be human nature to want to foist personal responsibility on something else, like fate or astrology. Our postmodern age is no different; maybe we’ve just traded the sidereal for the biological or societal. I am, and thus I think—that sums up the leftist principle of personal decision. Many once thought we were controlled by stars, and now the enlightened understand that it’s actually dopamine and white Christians. Conservatism should be a lone voice crying out in this historical wilderness, a little pinprick on the timeline of civilization reminding the world that, tragically, it’s just up to you. Words have power—of that I am intimately aware. However, to claim that someone’s speech can render others unable to control themselves is to rob individuals of their agency. If human thought is but driftwood buffeted by society and biology, the individual cannot steer himself.

I recall how just before Trinity’s NSO Diversity Lecture, all of the speakers were sitting in an empty Laurie Auditorium, giving their prepared speeches for practice. Before I presented mine and received a lot of very gentle suggestions to maybe take out all that stuff about race being unimportant, my friend Camila told the story of her grandmother’s tenacity in the face of discrimination and familial responsibilities (responsibilities, I might add, that present-day feminists would urge her to abandon). One professor said, “that’s great, that’s inspiring, but remember you don’t want to send the message that just anybody can lift themselves up by their bootstraps, or anything like that.” Inspiring indeed. Yes we can! . . . But no, you can’t.

Just as personal responsibility is the cornerstone of conservative economic thought, so must it be for the mind. The implications of materialism—also called historicism, the belief that all ideas and people can only be understood through historical or material processes—are hollow and horrifying. Free will becomes a weakling myth against to the ineluctable forces of one’s status or physiology. Although the concept in its purest form really only enjoys influence in university dissertations, it’s spread its tentacles into the public. We see it on the news every time a terrorist strikes and it had to have been his parents, his hometown, his mental health, anything but his choice of belief. We see it in the courtroom when people are convicted for encouraging suicide—a despicable thing to do, to be sure, but it doesn’t rob someone of their own personal agency. Life itself to the modernist becomes nothing more than the result of chemical luck.

Je pense, donc je suis. I think, therefore I am. I won’t go so far as to embrace Descartes’ sentiment as down-the-line conservative thought, but as far as free will goes, conservatives should embrace the idea that individuals control themselves, not that their state of being predicates their thoughts and actions. We should reject the materialist idea that we think because of what we are. Otherwise, the societal enslaves the individual. A person who is at the mercy of their society thus loses all control. That is true oppression.

Interestingly enough, my friend Rohan has a devoted interest in Stoic philosophy, which is all about overcoming the forces that seek to conquer the pure will. Just as a little prophecy of Isaiah, somewhere down the line that belief will clash with his self-professed materialism—but then again, he can choose to ignore that.