Overcoming barriers to civil discourse in a polarised campus climate
Note: Written by Stacy Ndlovu
Cheyanne Durham is on a mission. Only a sophomore at the University of Florida, she has already successfully put together one of the most successful and impactful events in Students For Liberty’s history. And she’s only getting started,
“Students For Liberty gave me confidence in my abilities and helped me define my personal mission. There are so many students who think they don’t have time for ideas because they can’t see how it connects with their career goals. I want young people to know that ideas actually do help with clarity of career and purpose.”
Unlike most SFL leaders who get involved in college, Cheyanne joined the movement in high school through Eagles For Liberty. Before then, she’d always kept a safe distance from politics and policy: she’d already become disillusioned by the increasing polarisation in politics. Through the Eagles, she saw that differing ideas don’t have to lead to conflict.
Naturally, when she got to college she became a campus coordinator. In her two years of college, she’s made impressive strides towards legitimising the ideas of liberty on her campus and reaching those who’d otherwise never be open to opposing views,
“To get the ideas out there, we need to get speakers that are more universally interesting not just interesting in our movement. We must market liberty to students in a way that is palpable, not political and tugs on emotions”
The effectiveness of this strategy could not have been more evident that when Cheyanne worked to bring out over 500 attendees to see Irving Roth, a Holocaust Survivor, at her university. There were over 900 people interested who couldn’t physically be accommodated, and on the day of the event, 1200 people watched online. This event resulted in her winning the Group of the Year Award at LibertyCon 2018.
Cheyanne highlights that the success of the event was due to the marketing and networking training she’d got through Students For Liberty. Through different regional conferences and events, she’d had opportunities to hone her skills in digital marketing, particularly Facebook. The platform was key to drawing large numbers at this event. Further, the event could not have been as successful if she didn’t know how to network,
“SFL has taught me valuable networking skills, learning how to connect with people, how to be quiet and listen. There are lots of people who just can’t wait for their turn to talk and with an event like this, we needed to get people to listen.”
Mr Roth’s discussion of his time in Auschwitz couldn’t have been more relevant to the audience. He talked to students about the incremental dehumanisation of Jews, which started with general cultural tensions, leading to social change with Roth being ostracised by his classmates and culminated in the most atrocious policy change in history. The holocaust didn’t happen overnight: it was a progression of individual rights being stripped away. Sure, one could make a logical argument against identity politics, culture wars and censorship, but Cheyanne is well aware that having someone who survived Auschwitz illustrate the problem is significantly more powerful.
That impact has been evident in several ways. On the very day of the event, Cheyanne and her team saw an increase in registrations to become involved with SFL. Also, in the days after, the event received widespread media coverage and fueled discussions on campus.
While the event was held in November 2017, the impact reverberates. Students are more open to listening to the ideas of liberty. The event with Irving Roth appealed to wide audience and strengthened SFL’s brand recognition while legitimising her activism. Students know that she, and her group, organise high-quality events. She is part of “that group that helped bring a Holocaust Survivor to campus” and that garners respect for her and a willingness to engage with the events she’s planned since.
Cheyanne Durham is currently Southeast Regional Conference Director and interning at Students For Liberty. She recently participated in SFL’s annual Top 100 Leaders Retreat, a program for the most inspiring and most effective student leaders within SFL’s network.