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Historical Book about Conservatives and Campus Wars Has Relevance in 2024

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While much has been written about progressive movements of the 1960s and how activism helped shape the higher education landscape — including, for example, the emergence of Black studies departments on college campuses — Dr. Lauren Lassabe Shepherd’s remarkable book Resistance from the Right: Conservatives & The Campus Wars in Modern America (The University of North Carolina Press) offers readers a look at the conservative movement of the same era and the players who would eventually emerge as key activists and thought leaders in today’s campus culture wars.

Resistance from the Right: Conservatives & The Campus Wars in Modern America was written by Dr. Lauren Lassabe ShepherdResistance from the Right: Conservatives & The Campus Wars in Modern America was written by Dr. Lauren Lassabe ShepherdThose leaders include Karl Rove, Bill Barr, and Jeff Sessions — who would gain critical training in the 1960s and go on to help shape conservative ideology and talking points decades later. The book “complicates our understanding of right-wing backlash as populist, since the narrators within were college students at a time when higher education was inaccessible to most,” writes Shepherd. “The inclusion of Ivy League and other institutions throws this dynamic into even further relief. It challenges assumptions of conservative backlash as grassroots by exploring the students’ impressive financial support.”

Shepherd, a professor of higher education at the University of New Orleans and one of the Top 40 Women in Higher Education recognized this year by Diverse, argues that the Right’s organizing efforts on campus were “less an organic youth endeavor than a top-down directive from funding giants in the larger movement, particularly leaders associated with the Foundation for Economic Education.”

Today, we see the growing impact of outside money from wealthy conservatives like Bill Ackman, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has waged an assault on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at Harvard University and elsewhere. His money and influence helped to topple the presidency of Harvard’s first Black president, Dr. Claudine Gay.

Shepherd’s book successfully relies on archival documents and oral histories from former college students who recount their participation as conservative student activists between the years 1967 and 1970. Their stories, combined with Shepherd’s meticulous research, put forth a narrative that helps us better understand the fierce opposition to change on college campuses that was being waged by peace and civil rights activists who protested the Vietnam War and efforts to deny access to the ballot box.

Dr. Stefan M. Bradley, the Charles Hamilton Houston 1915 Professor of Black Studies and History at Amherst College, and author of Upending the Ivory Tower: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Ivy League, praised the book, arguing that “Resistance from the Right confidently places conservative thinkers and sponsors in conversation with students in an effort to reveal the expanse of the cultural battlefields of higher education,” say Bradley. “Shepherd’s meticulous and timely book highlights the right in the history of student activism.”

Shepherd reminds us that the campus wars we see today are hardly new.

“Understood in historical context, it becomes clear that modern complaints about free speech or critical race theory are not genuine objections to any single type of idea or pedagogy,” Shepherd notes in her book. “Instead, these grievances are part of a much larger and older campaign to subvert the academy through the elevation of conservative views and the displacement of liberal ones.”

To learn more, take a listen to my recent podcast conversation with Shepherd. Visit:

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