For Conservative Women, a College Conundrum

REVIEW: ‘You’re Not Alone: The Conservative Woman’s Guide to College’ by Karin A. Lips

Guillermo Spelucin/Grabien
February 25, 2024

Somewhere, in some sorority house, a Brittany and a Jess discuss what color glitter they should paint this year’s rush banner. Brittany prefers red and white—’Bama colors—and Jess wants pink to match Alpha Phi’s recruitment bid-day theme of "Dream House." Before either can decide, Ashly beckons her sisters toward the front of the house: It’s time to practice songs.

Not every young college woman resembles Brittany or Jess or Ashly. Some, like the ones Network of Enlightened Women founder Karin A. Lips describes in You’re Not Alone: The Conservative Woman’s Guide to College, swap song nights to peruse internship listings in Washington, D.C., watch Ben Shapiro, or debate other 19-year-olds on abortion (debates which inevitably lead to friend-breakups or, worse, awkward roommate schisms). On one end of the spectrum, it seems, lie the "normies": girls who go to school to have fun and get a degree. On the other end are the Republicans who yearn for civil discourse and plot their future Supreme Court nominations in between classes. Lips offers young women some good advice: choose a school and major wisely, utilize women’s leadership programs or opportunities, focus on personal and professional development. Her advice, however, extends only to a niche group of women who want to make conservatism their campus identity—advice that should come with a few warnings.

"You’re not alone," Lips begins. "One of the most common conversations I have with young conservative women on campus today is about how alone they feel. From what I hear from students, it often feels more like 90% of their female peers and professors are liberal. What is a young conservative woman to do?"

This reviewer went to Hillsdale College. Attending a conservative school limited how often I thought about Republicanism; class discussions employed classical logic-based arguments that didn’t require political heft to win. People are usually surprised to know that students leave the college less political yet more conservative than when they entered. The best explanation for that is that Hillsdale’s bubble is uber-conducive to free thought, which for many of us, resulted in less political dogmatism. If students want an "intellectual home" on college campuses as Lips suggests they should find, it might be best to create the conditions for free thought, not necessarily for exclusively conservative thought.

You’re Not Alone presumes that young women who are conservatives will approach college from a political stance. Granted, some kids who are outspoken about their political beliefs in high school, might. Those students will appreciate Lips’s latest. Before explaining to students how to cultivate a conservative home on college campuses, though, it is also worth asking: Is it better to be a conservative student or a student who is a conservative?

Lips assumes right-leaning women want to fight against the schools they choose to attend. But the most consequential piece of conservative literature on elite professors and their liberal leanings came from a man devoted to his alma mater. William F. Buckley Jr. criticized Yale University’s "dogmatism … the tendency by some teachers to utilize the classroom as a soapbox from which to impose upon their students not the great ideas of great scholars, but their own," in 1951 with God and Man at Yale. Buckley wrote about Yale in such detail and with such vigor because he was familiar with and wanted to correct the institution’s failures.

Lips encourages conservative women to stand up for what they believe in, create counterculture movements and clubs on campuses, and find an antidote to pervasive liberal ideology that seeks to censor conservative viewpoints. But college can also be a good place to flush out previously held beliefs, build new ones, and learn new perspectives. If what motivates a young conservative woman to attend a four-year university is her premature desire to revolt against the institution she pledges herself to, chances are, she might not create for herself the best learning environment.

Womanhood requires identity—a steady state of being and a sameness with others that isn’t all that difficult to find if you’re a good human and an inquisitive student. Womanhood also requires sisterhood, and I sympathize with the women in Lips’s book who share their experiences of friend break-ups or sorority fights over political differences. College-aged women, though, have bigger problems to deal with that both connect and divide us a whole lot more than politics do: Boys, outfits, drama, social media, mental health, substances, clubs, any number of social pursuits. Women are women and some really will ditch their friends over petty disagreements. I’d guess that the isolation college-aged women feel on campuses has less to do with partisan divides and more to do with devices, a growing mental health crisis, and social shortcomings caused by COVID-era isolation.

College should also be fun. Girls I knew went to school to learn, grow in virtue, and breach adulthood. If a young student finds that politics are central to those three pursuits, they should listen to advice from Abby Daniela, a woman who Lips interviewed: "I learned to lead with my personality, not my politics." (Also important to note that conservative women should not be kind and compassionate just because they fear how peers might perceive their politics.)

Students who lean right should listen and learn to choose their battles wisely—and might take one more lesson from Buckley, who wrote in National Review’s mission statement that on the matter of education, his magazine sat proudly "on the side of excellence (rather than ‘newness’) and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity)."

You’re Not Alone: The Conservative Woman’s Guide to College
by Karin A. Lips
NeW, 169 pp., $15.95

Haley Strack is a Buckley Fellow at National Review.