Conservative activist Lauren Cooley came to the University of Nevada, Reno, campus on Wednesday, Sept. 16, to speak to students on the concept of free speech. Cooley’s visit is a part of the speaker series hosted by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada.
According to ASUN, the speaker series is aimed to encourage students with different perspectives to exchange ideas that are essential to a higher education.
“We wanted to purposely create a space for students to see examples of people on various ends of the political spectrum that can hold their conviction and still be able to dialogue with people who disagree with them,” said Sandra Rodriguez, Director of ASUN at the Center for Student Engagement. “Quite frankly, it was about giving an example and also to help students understand that’s an expectation of the education you’re going to receive at the University of Nevada.”
According to CNN, Cooley calls herself a conservative before she calls herself a Republican.
“I think Republican is a vehicle to raise money, provide a platform, get candidates in office, but it’s not a philosophy,” Cooley said. “So the reason I am an activist and the reason I am involved in politics is that I care about issues. I don’t think necessarily that a party will forever represent the same issues but I think conservatism as philosophy always will.”
Cooley is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and is currently pursuing her masters in Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies at the University of Miami. As a contributing editor for Red Alert Politics, an online conservative publication, Cooley’s work highlights issues on college campuses, specifically free speech.
During the presidential election, Cooley hired a team of college students to help her encourage students to register to vote. After the election, Cooley recalls her peers questioning what steps were to take place post-election.
“It was a question that I didn’t really know how to answer just because as a conservative obviously living through eight years of a liberal president, I’ve always been on defense,” Cooley said. “So really through my adult life, I’ve been on defense, I didn’t know what or how do you be an activist when your party or your viewpoint is in the White House. It took me a little to sit back and think what exactly should we be doing now that the election is over.”
After some thought, Cooley created the Make Campus Great Again Tour, a play on President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again. However, at the Speaker Series Cooley strayed from her Make Campus Great Again speech to focus on free speech.
“When people heard I was coming to campus, some people were upset because they don’t agree with my viewpoints, but I think what I’m going to talk about to tonight really is something we can all kind of come together on,” Cooley said. “I don’t think free speech should be a radical idea or something that’s offensive. I think the concept of free speech really should be something that people from the left and right can come together and say ‘Yeah, we both agree on that,’ and I think that a good way to combat unrest in the country, bigotry, or racism.”
After a student from UNR was identified at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the university has received criticism from the community. Cooley hopes that her presentation will bring perspective to the idea that one student does not represent an entire student body.
“I’m from the other side of the country. When I think of the University of Nevada, Reno, I don’t think of any one student and you guys shouldn’t either,” Cooley said.
Cooley’s presentation discussed the different forms of free speech and shared her own experiences and issues she faced while promoting voter registration last fall.
“I think it’s really important for students to hear different perspectives that are different from their own and to increase that diversity of thought,” said Hannah Jackson, Speaker of the ASUN Senate. “I think it’s part of the learning experience. I really liked the topic of tonight’s talk about free speech because I think that’s something that we’re having a lot of conversations about lately and it’s really cool to have it addressed by people that maybe don’t have the same political ideology as you or other students.”
Karolina Rivas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @karolinarrivas.