Lyceum Scholar firm and well-spoken on free speech
It’s no surprise that Jesse Dennis has a penchant for politics.
The freshman economics and political science major grew up in the backyard of the nation’s hotbed of politics, has two politically active parents and a grandfather who served in Congress.
“I guess you could say, by definition, I’m an activist, though I don’t view myself as one,” she said. “I’m not bashful about sharing my Libertarian views, in part because of where I grew up. People had strong opinions and it would have been difficult living there as a fence-sitter.”
Jesse came to Clemson’s College of Business by way of McLean, Va., a politically charged suburb of the nation’s capital. She was one of nine students accepted into the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism’s Lyceum Scholars Program for the 2016-17 school year. The institute’s mission is to increase public awareness of the moral foundations of capitalism.
Jesse views herself as economically conservative and socially liberal with strong views on civil liberties, with perhaps the strongest being free speech. Her passion for First Amendment rights is a big reason she’s active in WeRoar, an organization committed to preserving free speech on campus.
“A university should be a place open to public discourse and an exchange of ideas because that’s one of the ways you learn,” she said. “However, universities in general are discouraging opinions and free speech.”
Jesse said one reason she chose Clemson over other universities was the Lyceum program, which provided her “the perfect combination of being able to discuss political philosophy and literature while getting a first-rate education in economics.”
She said her parents liked the school, too, because more than one point of view is reflected at Clemson compared to other schools.
“The great thing about having more diverse thought here is you get to share and hear others’ beliefs, plus I’m getting a quality liberal arts education and at a football crazy school with the spirit and culture that comes with it. Clemson is a perfect fit for me.”
WeRoar brought a conservative voice to campus last October in Milo Yiannopoulos, who has met stiff resistance at Cal-Berkeley and other U.S. campuses. But it turned out to be what Jesse called “a good moment for Clemson.”
“His views aren’t typically spoken within traditional university cultures, so we expected protests. College campuses are traditionally bastions for liberal belief, but he wasn’t shouted down and was allowed to be heard by the hundreds who attended,” she said. “Though many in the Clemson crowd didn’t like what he said, he wasn’t harassed or denied free speech.”
Occasionally, Jesse finds herself having to explain and defend her libertarian beliefs. She says the Lyceum program has challenged her on many levels, which is helping her better articulate those beliefs so others can see their value.
“Lyceum really helps with argument and the discourse with fellow students and professors,” she said. “An emphasis is preparing students to better state and write about how they view the world. For example, if you find yourself disagreeing with a philosopher’s statements, you are challenged to defend your view against it thoughtfully.”
As someone who likes to think about and come up with intellectual and moral solutions to problems, Jesse may consider following her parents into a think tank career, but is keeping the door open to a business career also.
“Because of my upbringing, I’ve seen think-tanks find solutions to 21st century problems and that appeals to me. But I see all the contributions business makes to our lives so that is also tempting” she said. “We’ll see. Meantime, I’m benefiting from a quality education at a school where we’re really motivated to succeed because of the work ethic here.”
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