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Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz and Mette-Marie Nørlev are both left-leaning in their political views. They are happy to debate tax issues with centre-right voters, but when it comes to race and minorities it becomes a question of human rights, and human rights are not up for debate, they say.
Some representatives of the centre-right in Denmark harbour views that are so oppressive and discriminating that they should be neither tolerated nor debated, according to two students at the University of Copenhagen.
Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz and Mette-Marie Nørlev study anthropology at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Forest and Natural and Cultural Heritage Management at the University of Copenhagen’s Forest and Landscape College respectively. Mette-Marie Nørlev is a member of the Facebook-group ‘Inkluderende miljø på KU’ (‘Inclusive environment at UCPH’, ed.) which appeared as a reaction to Conservative Students and Frit Forum whom, in their campaign for the student council elections, used political slogans such as ‘Identity politics, no thanks’ and ‘Victimisation readiness, no thanks’. Both students believe it is acceptable to suppress certain views.
Their view on the matter stands in stark contrast to those of three students previously interviewed by the University Post who raised concerns about the lack of open dialogue at the university. According to the latter, expressing centre-right views on campus may result in accusations of racism and privilege blindness. Similarly, it is their experience at the faculty that being left-leaning is the correct political persuasion as opposed to being centre-right.
The university is defintely an echo chamber.
Mette-Marie Nørlev, student
According to Mette-Marie Nørlev, certain centre-right proponent’s view on humanity is downright harmful and offensive to human rights.
»We’ve accepted this notion that all ideas and opinions are valid, that it’s okay to not like immigrants and trans-people, it’s okay to hate women a little. But equal rights is not a matter of opinion. It’s offensive to the notion of human rights,« she says.
According to Mette-Marie Nørlev and Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz, there is a difference between views on tax issues and government spending, and what they deem racist, sexist, or otherwise oppressive views.
»Just because you identify as centre-right politically, I don’t automatically dislike you,« says Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz. »The question is, how do you treat other people? Do you discriminate in your choice of words? Are you hurting other people? Then we can’t be friends.«
Mette-Marie Nørlev is not a student at the Faculty of Social Sciences but at the University of Copenhagen’s Forest and Landscape College where many of her fellow students are »men from Jutland who go hunting.«
In her daily life at school, she experiences being part of a minority which becomes evident as soon as she points out that something is racist or sexist. She feels that she is quickly dismissed as »that feminist you have to tread lightly with.«
Never-the-less she is not deterred. Once, a professor wanted students to discuss whether or not the word ‘neger’ (the Danish word for ‘negro’) was offensive. In response, Mette-Marie Nørlev pointed out that that was not up to the professor and his 30 white students to decide.
»I can decide for myself that I’m not going to use that word, but it’s not up to me whether or not I should be allowed to use it. In that case, I have to listen to what the injured party says,« she says.
Mette-Marie Nørlev loves »trying to make people understand how wrong their worldview is,« but she doubts that she has managed to change her fellow student’s minds.
»I have no desire to educate them or convince that I’m right. But since I’m the only one in my class with those convictions I figure I have to stand up for them,« she says.
Due to among other things an internship, she has not been to the college campus for almost a year and in that time her views have only gotten more extreme, she says. Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz is surprised by her statement:
»It’s funny how you call yourself extreme. To us, your views aren’t particular extreme. It’s just about respecting others,« she says.
Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz cannot think of an example of a time when she has had to put her foot down in a debate in her anthropology programme.
Within their own community of friends, the two students are not considered extremists in their views, but they are also perfectly aware of the fact that they live in an ideological echo chamber.
It can be problematic, according to Mette-Marie Nørlev, especially because it creates a »weird sense of distance between the university and the rest of society.«
»The university is definitely an echo chamber. I think my bubble burst when I leave our community of friends and I bump into someone in say Hillerød who is using the N-word left and right.«
The current debate climate at the University of Copenhagen has been raised as an issue by the social democratic student organisation Frit Forum and the centre-right coalition Conservative Students.
In 2019, the two student organisations formed an electoral alliance for the student council elections and campaigned under the mottos ‘Identity politics, no thanks’ and ‘Victimisation readiness, no thanks’. Two of the alliance’s top candidates, Frederikke Werther and Cille Hald Egholm, were interviewed by Berlingske about their view on the current public debate environment at the university, and Frederikke Werther appeared on the radio show Shitstorm on P1 addressing a meme-account that encouraged followers to vandalize her election posters on campus.
Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz deems said posters »extremely offensive«. According to her, several minority students have been offended by their message.
Mette-Marie Nørlev calls the centre-right focus on the culture of victimisation and identity politics »a very clever gambit«. In doing so, they are creating a narrative of a problematic tendency at the university. According to her, the students from Frit Forum and Conservative Students are »champions of the status quo, because the status quo works to their advantage.«
She says it is a pipedream to imagine a space where there is room for everyone. She presents a hypothetical scenario:
»Say I throw a massive birthday party with an open-door policy. By opening my party to everyone, I risk that both Rasmus Paludan and my Muslim friend show up. If he [Paludan] really believes that all Muslims should be wiped out and that her life is worth nothing, then they can’t be in the same room at a party.«
Neither Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz nor Mette-Marie Nørlev think it is particularly constructive to label others as racist, privilege blind, or transphobic in a discussion, which according to students the University Post has been in contact with has happened in the past.
However, they do not hesitate to label the words and actions of others as racist, but neither recalls ever having called anyone a racist to his or her face.
»A discussion would have to be really heated and I would have to have run out of arguments to make,« says Mette-Marie Nørlev who agrees with the centre-right students that labels restrict an open dialogue.
Centre-right voters feel like there’s no room for them and their views, but there are people in the world who are oppressed simply for being who they are.
Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz, student
According to Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz many people fail to recognise that racism takes on many subtle forms in society:
»The word racist is pretty abrasive« she says. »But we have to call it like we see it in order to expose people to the fact that racism is a very real thing in the world.«
To Mette-Marie Nørlev reaching an understanding of that very point has been a long process. As a young girl, she thought racists were people who were vocal about not liking black people. Now her perspective has broadened.
»It may be that you don’t actively dislike brown people but you may still be involved in maintaining the societal structure that normalises racism.«
According to Mette-Marie Nørlev, changing your worldview can be a difficult process. To her the debate stirs up a lot of emotions and she often feels angry, sad, frustrated and powerless—but so do the centre-rightists, and she wants them to recognise this, too. It can be very hard to look past your own emotions and participate constructively in a discussion of a sensitive subject.
»Sometimes I don’t know how to explain to people that they have to treat others well. If I have to do that, I already feel like there’s a fundamental disconnect. If you don’t understand what the problem is, when I say that you can’t address a group of strangers as ‘guys and girls’, I really don’t know how to make you understand that.«
Value-based politics in particular can drive a wedge between left and right-leaning students at the university. Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz says that she does not care if people want tax cuts or generally have a more free-market-economy view of the world, as long as they do not oppress or offend others.
»Centre-right voters feel like there’s no room for them and their views, but there are people in the world who are oppressed simply for being who they are,« she says.
People do not have a choice whether they are born with brown skin or in a transgendered body, according to Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz. But the centre-right and social democrat students choose their discriminating views of immigrants and non-binary people.
»It’s completely okay to suppress those types of views,« says Mette-Marie Nørlev.
»We’re debating from a standpoint under which there’s a difference between views and simply being in the world. That makes it difficult to debate someone like Frederikke [Werther from Frit Forum], because she sees everything as views and not as politics,« says Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz.
But Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz is adamant that there needs to be room for benign ignorance and curiosity in the public debate. She is also worried that the current public debate is dominated by two opposing frontlines from which people scream at each other instead of trying to understand each other.
»People can say whatever they want,« says Mette-Marie Nørlev. But so far only old, white men and women have been allowed to define and benefit from academic freedom. According to her the problem lies elsewhere:
»It’s not about feeling offended. It’s about respecting each other. I have the right to call any person I meet an annoying asshole, but I don’t do so because I know how to behave.«
When centre-right students do something discriminating or offensive, they are in reality limiting other people’s freedom, she says:
»It’s about the fact that nobody likes having their freedom restricted. But their freedom ends where other people’s freedom starts. I think that is something we need to understand.«
Cille Hald Egholm from Conservative Students can wear a sombrero to class every day, if she wants to, says Mette-Marie Nørlev. She just cannot wear one to a party organised by the university. She has to accept the fact that others may feel targeted and offended by her behaviour, she says:
»You can paint a swastika on your forehead if that’s what you want to do. But that’s an extreme statement to make, so it’s obviously going to have consequences, the most likely being that people will have nothing to do with you,« says Mette-Marie Nørlev.
Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz says that she does not understand the motivation for the centre-right student’s election campaign and its message and she would like to pose a question:
»If you wake up one day and you’re not allowed to wear a sombrero to a party, how will that limit your personal freedom?«
Translation: Theis Duelund