From the Dartmouth Review - A New Campus Paper at BYU: An Interview with the Cougar Chronicle
Lintaro Donovan - Original story written at the Dartmouth Review
June 23, 2022
Editor’s Note: Donovan is a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the “LDS” or “Mormon” Church), BYU has a reputation for conservatism within both its student body and administration. Of particular note is its strict Honor Code, which touches on everything from premarital sex to alcohol consumption to dress and grooming standards. We at The Review chose to interview Stevenson to provide our readers insight into the reach of leftism in higher education, even at a campus many would assume to be immune to leftist thinking or politics.
The following is an interview between Digital Editor of The Review Lintaro Donovan (TDR) and Tommy Stevenson (TS), a junior at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah and co-founder of the BYU Conservatives and student publication Cougar Chronicle (and its Red Pill Blue Blood podcast).
TDR: BYU has a public reputation as an extremely conservative institution with a similarly conservative student body. Is that reputation deserved?
TS: The student body is majority conservative, though the faculty is shifting to the left. However, those on the left are the loudest and attempt to silence others. I would say that, relative to the rest of the United States, BYU is a conservative institution. But that is like saying Bill Maher is extremely conservative. As at any university, if you are in BYU’s humanities departments, you will be taught leftism as fact.
TDR: What, if any, leftist presence is there at BYU?
TS: The humanities, sociology, education, law, and political science departments. Just as at other universities, you will find leftism in these areas.
TDR: How free is political discourse on campus?
TS: Conservatives can speak more at BYU, but it depends on your major and classes. BYU in general has stringent policies about protests on campus and political affiliations because of its association with the Church. The situation is especially tricky with club approval. According to some connections we have, even the BYU Students for Life club had trouble getting approval from the administration despite that fact that the Church is fully pro-life. Students had to reach out to Church authorities to get approval.
TDR: As an institution of the Church, students are supposed to live up to a strict Honor Code. Does the student body actually follow it? How does the Administration deal with infractions?
TS: For the most part, the student body follows the important parts of the Honor Code such as practicing abstinence before marriage, but some parts, such as the grooming and dress standards, are not taken as seriously. I say this as a student with a beard when beards technically are not allowed on campus. Enforcement depends on the infraction, and I am not totally privy to the disciplinary process. However, in general, it can range from someone handing you a razor at the BYU Testing Center to expulsion depending on the infraction.
TDR: How has the campus reacted to different moments of ascendant leftism on campus, from the defacing of a statue of Brigham Young in 2020 to the lighting-up of the Y in rainbow colors in March and September 2021?
TS: I do not believe that the defacing of the Brigham Young statue was a very explosive event. I worked next to the statue at the time, and they washed the paint off the next day. I did not hear much about it except in news stories. That was also during the thick of COVID lockdowns, so nothing on campus really happened. However, the lighting-up of the Y in rainbow colors certainly had a large impact on campus. There were protests that happened in coordination with the event on campus, and there were some students who took to social media about it. Most voices I heard of were in support, but not very many who were opposed to it spoke up about it. BYU made a statement the first time it happened saying they did not give permission to light up the Y, and the second time they said nothing.
TDR: Is there any more information you would like to provide me in regards to leftism at BYU?
TS: Leftism is alive and well here. Do not let anyone tell you differently.
TDR: Why did you find it necessary to organize conservatives at BYU and start this publication?
TS: Over my three years at BYU, I have found increasing leftist ideals and political agendas have taken root in classes, the school newspaper (The Universe), and in the student body in general. I would distinguish leftism from classical liberalism in that it focuses heavily on identity politics dividing people into groups. The principles of the gospel are in contradiction with these group-based ideological foundations. It is based on the concept of the divine individual made in the image of God and conservatism and classical liberalism both put this concept above all else. I wanted to spread that foundational principle.
TDR: What would you describe as the Cougar Chronicle’s mission?
TS: The mission of the Cougar Chronicle as well as BYU Conservatives is to bring news and opinion to BYU students who are classically liberal, centrist, or on the right. The Universe, although sponsored by the Church, has consistently been going further and further to the left. We want the everyday classically liberal or center-to-right student to be armed with what to say in classes so they are not left to be called a bigot and can articulate their arguments well.
TDR: What has the reaction in Provo been like? In the greater region?
TS: We have had great positive feedback on our Instagram page, newsletter, and podcast. We’ve made several headlines for exposing things being taught at BYU and making waves standing up against critical race theory and gender theory being taught. Some have targeted us with negative reactions as well. However, we have found that these efforts have just amplified our voice in the political atmosphere as long as we are vigilant about what we say and do.
TDR: Have any reactions been especially surprising?
TS: You can read several articles online about one instance in particular where a professor threatened to report us to the Honor Code Office for posting a class assignment online. It ended up landing us a larger following and attention from multiple conservative organizations. The tweets the professor wrote claiming we broke the Honor Code were taken down after speaking with one of the deans of BYU. The claims made about us were misleading at best and dishonest at their worst.
TDR: How does your membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints impact your political beliefs? How does it impact your work with the Cougar Chronicle?
TS: As I mentioned before, the principle of the divine individual made in the image of God is core to my beliefs in the Church as well as in politics. That goes against the leftist narrative suggesting power group structures based on skin color or gender. The individual comes first before the group. It has also impacted my beliefs in natural law. For example, on the question of gender theory, I believe men and women have different roles based in reality and not in subjective thought. That does not mean that a man cannot be feminine or a woman be masculine, but a man cannot become a woman. Absolute truths still exist, and the leftist post-modern suggestion that there are no absolute truths can be shattered with simple questions such as “does pain exist?” as nobody can tell you it doesn’t. That is the same thing with the reality that men and women are distinct and separate. In the Cougar Chronicle and on our Instagram page, BYU Conservatives, we share principles taught by Church leaders as well as comment on political topics through the lens of the Gospel.
TDR: How has BYU’s status as a private, religious institution impacted the publication?
TS: It hasn’t really. We are an independent newsletter and organization outside of BYU’s jurisdiction. We have complete freedom to publish and post what we want online.
TDR: What has the process of starting a new conservative student publication been like? Where have you received support? Where have you faced obstacles?
TS: It has been difficult to know where to start. The other student running our Instagram page, Luke Hanson, and I have no experience running a publication. We have had the Instagram page for a while and have been able to manage that, but we both have other career aspirations [to deal with] as well. We plan on bringing on more people as the school year starts up this fall and expanding our reach. We have received support from multiple students as well as people outside the university. We may be off to a slower start because of how busy we are this summer, but it will be picking up in the new school year.
TDR: What is your long-term vision for the publication? What role do you think it will play in the future of BYU and the school’s political culture?
TS: Honestly, we aren’t sure about the long-term role it will have. However, we want it to be a lasting alternate publication for conservative students to have access to and be able to contribute to while they are at BYU. We also hope it will be pivotal in changing minds and exposing the radical things being taught on BYU campus. The principles of the Gospel are not aligned with leftism, and we are here to protect them.
TDR: What has been your most important story so far? Why?
TS: The most important story so far I believe was our piece on the activity we exposed in a class on the topic of whiteness. That was the same article the professor threatened us for publishing online. It struck a chord as many people did not know the extent to which leftism was being taught at BYU as fact. The assignment essentially had you take pictures of places on campus that signified “whiteness” or in other words were part of the racist system at BYU. The assignment also assumed that racism was all over campus without any evidence whatsoever. You merely had to identify the racism within the photo.
TDR: If you were in charge of the conservative movement across all college campuses, what would you be doing to fight the Left?
TS: I would teach every classically liberal, center, or conservative student that they can speak up. Free speech is under threat, and we are being taught unscientific nonsense in many classes. You can speak up, and if you do, you will get support.
Lintaro P. Donovan
June 23, 2022