It’s tough to gauge the mood at Georgetown University, following the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy, because much of the university community has migrated southward for the warmer climates and umbrella drinks of spring break. But Georgetown students, wanting to weigh in on the actions of their classmate and school, did so from vacations in places like Costa Rica, Miami, and Savannah, Ga., where they had learned about the contraception quarrel and Limbaugh vitriol from alerts clogging their Facebook feeds.
Fluke isn’t buying Limbaugh’s apology, which seems like triage as his advertisers flee, but even in the weeks preceding his misogynistic hate spew, students had felt tension between their identities and their university. Women had balked at the high cost of birth control; now students supporting the school’s stance worried about how it would respond to the White House mandate that Catholic institutions, too, cover the pill. Fluke being thrust in front of the world only stoked the flare-up that one student said “has in no way been resolved.”
And yet, despite the school disagreeing with Fluke’s words, it has rallied behind her along with liberals, the media, and the bandwagon politicians who look to harness themselves to celebrity carts. Students and faculty from across the political spectrum agree she was brave to give her testimony and has done her school proud. Many students described feeling galvanized by their president’s strongly worded letter written in Fluke’s defense. The right has been largely silent, or fumbling to respond—Romney mechanically offered that Rush’s words—“slut” and “prostitute”—were not ones he’d choose.
“I’m not sure if minds have been changed, but a lot more are paying attention to this now,” said law-school student-government president, Elizabeth Farrar.
But some students who don’t share Fluke’s views—that Georgetown should fund contraception coverage for its students—have grown hesitant to voice their opposition, lest they be lumped with that outlandish wingnut, Rush. One after the next, students describe Georgetown as a place where healthy, thoughtful dialogue and disagreement thrives, but many feel less comfortable talking about contraception than before.
“It’s an easy weapon against our argument to compare us to Rush Limbaugh,” said third-year law student Drew Sullivan. “The fear is that our voice would be muted by liberals who would paint us as his disciples, when our argument is based on constitutional values.”
Sullivan feels that religious institutions, like Georgetown, should operate free of the federal government’s grasp, and says Republican students can feel discomfort around identifying themselves as such.
“When Rush purports to have a listener base largely comprised of conservatives, it gives liberals a way to say we’re all evil.”
While students agree that Georgetown’s campus is a welcome place for respectful debate of opposing viewpoints, conservative students feel they are clearly in the minority. Paul Slaughter said he was naive about how lonely it could be as a conservative thinker there hailing from Andrew, Texas. The president of the Republican Law Students Association said Limbaugh’s antics distract from the real discourse.
“The atmosphere of sympathy has made it more difficult for lawmakers to stand in defiance of Sandra and those who share her position,” he wrote in an email. “This is unfortunate considering that Sandra and her supporters appear to lack an appropriate level of respect for American religious freedom.”
A third-year law student from Montgomery, Ala. who jokingly describes himself as “a dirty liberal who surrounds himself with other dirty liberals,” Elliot Labovitz said students with conservative or religious values who disagreed with Sandra Fluke’s position on contraception may not only be afraid to do so publicly, but if they do, they may face wrath.
“Now is not the time,” he said. “I think they might experience something comparable to what happened to Sandra. I don’t think people would respond reasonably.”
Outrage and insult is certainly some of what one student found when she wrote what her editor called a “snarky, cynical” blog post for a site called The College Conservative titled, “Sandra Fluke Does Not Speak for Me.” Angela Morabita writes that Fluke is a liberal show pony, a “skank,” and that she has no pride or respect for religious freedom. Like many of Fluke’s detractors, Morabita also calls into question Fluke’s sex life. Shortly after her comment was posted, Limbaugh, too, had it on his own website. Morabita wrote in a separate post that the piece sparked “some of the most hateful things I have ever heard.”
“I am still a Georgetown student and I never wanted controversy—now, I need it to die down so that I can go back to normal college student life,” she wrote in an email.
“It made me laugh. It was a good read,” said College Conservative editor, Zachary Freeman of Morabita’s piece. The University of Tennessee business finance major founded the site to combat what he says was his experience being discriminated against by liberals for having conservative views. He says the key to engaging college students with issues of political importance is to entertain them.
“You can tell Angela is frustrated,” he says. She loves Georgetown. It’s hard for her, because she wants to foster her religious freedom. Everyone has a different view on this story.”