Is My Alma Mater a Communist Training Camp?

September 8, 2021 Updated: September 20, 2021


Yes, Cornell students are trained to be good communists.

That word isn’t used, but the students are trained to believe that life will be easy as soon as they overthrow “the system.” And on a deeper level, they’re trained with the carrots and sticks of communism. The carrots are the free stuff you get if you submit to its demands, and the sticks are the punishments imposed if you resist. Pablo Escobar called it “silver or lead” (“plata o plomo”)—either accept rewards or get shot.

Cornell students receive rewards when they submit to the ideological orthodoxy. They get good grades, social acceptance, and entrée to the prestigious jobs that ideologues control. If they resist campus “activists,” they get bullied, which quickly escalates.

The threat of social ostracism is usually enough to persuade people to submit and accept the goodies. As a result, totalitarians can take over an institution with only a bit of violence directed at the few who aren’t bought off or intimidated.

The human brain is designed to learn from carrots and sticks. Neurons connect when we receive a reward or threat, and that wires us to respond quickly to similar carrots and sticks in the future. No conscious awareness is involved. Each brain responds to the incentive structure presented to it without conscious thought.

That’s why students don’t realize they’re being bullied into adopting an ideology. In fact, totalitarians punish you if you acknowledge the climate of fear that they’ve created. And they reward you for pretending you’re only motivated by the greater good.

That makes it noteworthy that a group of Cornell students spoke out recently. A group of self-described “liberals” complained in the school’s newspaper of campus restraints on self-expression. I won’t recount the incidents that lead up to this because they were well reported by courageous Cornell Law professor William Jacobson. Instead, I want to explain the historic roots of communist training at Cornell.

I began my freshman year there in 1971 with no knowledge of Marxism. But in a few short months, I “knew” that capitalism was the cause of all problems, so tearing it down would allow peace and love to pop up like daisies. And I had absorbed the belief that “Amerika” is the source of all evil. I didn’t believe everything I was told, but I learned to restrain the urge to challenge it, since I could see what the outcome would be.

Decades went by before I woke up from that training, and in that time, I had unfortunately passed it on to more innocent youth (that story is told in my book, “How I Escaped Political Correctness and You Can Too”). Then, I felt foolish for having been snookered, so I searched for a deeper understanding of how it happened. My research led to some little-known facts.

In 1969, a black student group at Cornell took over the main student union building. Photos of the gun-toting takeover artists splashed across major media. Negotiations between the “activists” and the administration were led by a popular political science professor who killed himself shortly afterward. Professor Clinton Rossiter was said to have been depressed over the way administrators and faculty, his longtime friends, had caved in to all demands.

Life magazine printed huge photos of Rossiter negotiating with the “activists,” but it was silent when his dead body was discovered by his son, a Cornell student himself at the time.

I learned about that in the son’s autobiography. Sadly, the son clung to the popular view that the “activists” were the good guys. That view persists, as if the university gained cachet from the incident.

A year after those events, my guidance counselor recommended that I apply to Cornell. While I’m grateful to have gone there, I strongly suspect the counselor was on the receiving end of a heavy marketing campaign from the university.

Soon I was walking on the site of the famous photo in front of Willard Straight Hall (not to be confused with the nearby building that was taken over in 1972) every day. In all of that time, I never asked who Willard Straight was, so imagine my shock when I stumbled upon the fact that his son, Michael Straight, spied for the KGB as a member of the Cambridge spy ring.

Willard died in the Spanish influenza epidemic, and his fortune was inherited by his “progressive” widow. She took her three young children to England to build a “progressive” education there. Her son ended up at Cambridge in the 1930s, when a young man’s fancy often turned to the Communist Party. Some Cambridge spies escaped to the Soviet Union, but Michael Straight just went home and got hired by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt!

Other feathers in Straight’s cap included being the publisher of the New Republic and the deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Conformity to the communist agenda was a career booster then, as now.

The popularity of communism among college students in the 1930s has been written out of history as if it never happened. You’re condemned as a McCarthyite nut if you mention it. William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” offers some glimpse into the 1940s roots of today’s intellectual fads.

What hope is there for today’s students to free themselves from such a deeply rooted orthodoxy?

It wasn’t hopeful to see the Cornell students’ op-ed embrace the goals of the “activists” and limit its concern to the risk that their tactics might set back the cause. Nor was it heartening to hear that the Cornell administration plans compulsory anti-racism activism for all students, faculty, and staff.

The only hope, in my mind, is for students to think for themselves about “inclusion.” I didn’t “feel included” at Cornell. I felt different from students I perceived as richer, more cultured, or more attractive. But I learned to manage those feelings because no one was there to teach me to blame my feelings on others. And surely no one was empowering me to punish those I perceived as excluding me.

Humans have had to manage in-group/out-group feelings since the beginning of time. In the animal world, an isolated individual is quickly picked off by predators. That’s why the mammal brain releases a threat chemical (cortisol) when it’s isolated and a reward chemical (oxytocin) when it finds safety in numbers. We have strong feelings about social acceptance because we’ve inherited the mammalian limbic brain.

But animals don’t “include” every critter that walks by. A herd, pack, or troop is defined by trust bonds built from past experience. A mammal must build trust bonds in order to gain acceptance. A mammal is strongly motivated to build trust bonds because it faces predators alone without them.

Building trust is a learned skill. It took me a long time to learn, and it was painful. I wouldn’t have learned if I had seen an easy alternative.

Communism offers an easy alternative. You get instant “inclusion,” as long as you embrace each new “fact” that your leaders report.

It’s hard to leave the communist herd once you’ve joined, because you’ve learned to expect “the system” to meet your needs for you. You haven’t learned to build trust on your own. If the system doesn’t make you feel included, it’s a “trauma,” according to our new elites.

You can be an elite, too, if you accept that surreal mindset!

It’s a hard choice, but we’re lucky to still have a choice.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D., is founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, East Bay. She is the author of many personal development books, including “Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels" and "How I Escaped Political Correctness, And You Can Too.” Dr. Breuning’s work has been translated into eight languages and is cited in major media. Before teaching, she worked for the United Nations in Africa. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Tufts. Her website is