NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. -Students and speakers decried the protests erupting across the country over conservative speakers being brought to present at universities at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The issue of freedom of speech resonated with the crowd at the conference.  

“[College] is and should be a place where we explore other opinions and ideas,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “This administration is committed to upholding those freedoms of expression and exchange of ideas.” 

Debate over freedom of speech and diversity of ideas has divided liberals and conservatives on campus, sparking protests over speakers being brought to their schools. In September of last year nine students at UC Berkeley were arrested at protests against Ben Shapiro, an editor of the conservative publication Daily Wire, who was speaking on campus. Earlier that year, the school cancelled Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech just two hours before it was scheduled to begin after violent protests erupted, resulting in fires and injuries. Most recently, the University of Chicago announced a professor’s decision to bring Steve Bannon to speak on campus, which has received backlash from a large portion of the student body and faculty.  “Political correctness is dying a slow, painful, bloody, agonizing death. And all I can say is hell, yeah,” said Shapiro at CPAC on Thursday, garnering cheers on his attacks on political correctness from the young crowd. 

“College campuses have become a place where they want everyone to look different but think the same,” said Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative student organization. 

He added that universities value feelings over critical thinking. Speakers on the panel agreed that universities are indoctrinating their students to oppose the diversity of ideas. Professors are just “punks” that aren’t teaching students at all – creating a liberal monopoly on campuses, said a current University of Colorado Boulder Republican student, Marcus Fotenos. 

Other students attending the conference felt they were deprived of the freedom of speech on their campuses. Lucas Veca, a student at Ithaca College, said that conservatives on campus are regularly criticized for their unpopular views. 

“If you were to bring up how you don’t think gun control is a good idea, they come after you and they really hammer you with mean names,” said Veca. 

But some campus republicans themselves feel excluded from conservative conversations based on aspects of their identity. 

Adelynn Campbell, a transgender college student from New York City said she is sometimes censored by her fellow conservative students.  

“A lot of times I get shut out of conversations in conservative spheres – I won’t be put on panels or I won’t be involved in certain debates because they already assume that I’m going to take a liberal position,” she said.  

The CPAC conference was largely geared toward college students and other younger conservatives and featured career-starting opportunities like activism boot camps, career fairs and head shots. As many conservative students feel their ideas are being omitted from the classroom, organizers hoped this focus could attract conservative students to activism on campus.