By KYRA WATKINs
As the political landscape continuously changes, I think it is fair to say that as of now we live in a highly politically polarized society. If you scroll through your Facebook timeline, you could see a wide array of opinions ranging from, “Make America Great Again” posts to jokes about assassinating the President. If you turn on the news, it does not take long to find different channels that talk about politics in a way that makes it sound like, from one broadcasting network to another, we are in two different countries.
It seems that college campuses, including our own, have fostered a safe and open-minded community but only for liberals or those with “progressive ideals.” That is to say that the ideas of political conservatives on college campuses go either unnoticed or, in many cases, disrespected and rejected. While, I identify as more liberal, there is still value in hearing both sides to political conversations, and in fact, I think that is the only way to bring about effective change.
In talking with UMW students who identify as conservative or Republican, all students to an extent, seemed to agree that it is not as easy to voice your political beliefs on campus if you are a conservative as compared to liberals. Most of them also agreed that they were more outspoken their freshman year, but throughout their time at the university, they have either become more accepting of liberal positions, or simply feel like they should not voice their more conservative opinions.
A political science student who would like to remain anonymous, said that they felt that, “around 98 percent of professors here are liberal” and that the day after the local elections in Virginia, one professor came into class and said, “I hope everyone was as excited about the election results as me.”
Stephen Lamm, the Chair of the UMW College Republicans, feels that people are surprised that he is Republican when he voices his opinions in class, which he feels is partially due to him being an openly gay man.
Another political science student, Becky Fitzgerald, said that during her freshman year, students had to complete an in class policy assignment where they had to agree upon a federal spending budget in groups which was challenging for her because her group was more conservative.
At the end of the assignment, the professor asked all of the students to share what they had drafted and asked the class, “Who is more conservative?” and no one raised their hand. The professor eventually had to tell them to not be embarrassed and asked them to stand up if they identified as conservative. Fitzgerald, and some other students stood up, however they were clearly in the minority. “About 9 out of 60 students stood up,” Fitzgerald said.
Almost worse than assuming that everyone agrees with you, which is something liberals on campuses are very good at doing, is being rude when someone voices that they disagree with you.
Another UMW student, since freshman year, remained silent about their political beliefs. In one of their education classes, there was a discussion about the controversial transgender bathroom laws and everyone in the class seemed to agree that transgender bathrooms should be put into effect.
This student, who is moderate but tends to lean more conservative, said, “I feel we need to consider the whole school’s feelings about transgender bathrooms, not just how it would affect one student,” they were immediately shot down by fellow classmates. No one even gave them the chance to explain themselves. Every one is entitled to their own opinion, whether we agree with it or not.
Stephen Lamm said, “I feel compelled to lie about who I voted for,” as he voted for Trump, and after the election some of his friends even stopped talking to him. He feels that as a Republican he has to censor what he says, whereas liberals do not.
Everyone seemed to agree that they have had to “come out” as a conservative, whether it is in class, a friend group or anywhere else on campus. This wording is not to trivialize the experience in the LGBTQ+ community of coming out, but to draw attention to judgemental way we treat those whose opinions differ from our own.
They have to validate it to prove they are not racist, sexist or whatever other label that people want to put on them. In reality, political values, much less moral values are not black and white and cannot be defined with a word like liberal or conservative. People are people, and it seems that as a campus we are losing sight of that, and even dehumanizing anyone that wants to “Make America Great Again” or doesn’t “Feel the Bern.”
This should be a wakeup call to our campus. We are a community of educated individuals that came here to broaden our horizons and, as cliché as it sounds, find ourselves. By emotionally attacking those with more conservative views, we are taking away from not only their college experience but also our own as well.
They lack the space to express themselves, and we lose the opportunity to form a connection with someone who thinks differently than us, which is how we grow. If we write people off as sexist or racist, that doesn’t mean they will not vote. That does not mean they will not still hold the same beliefs, or that they will suddenly bleed blue. What it does mean, however, is that they will be more unwilling to listen to our side and or work together. Listening to each other and working together is the only way to accomplish justice, change and unity. Liberals, as a whole, need to look at our actions and see if we are practicing the “acceptance and love” that we preach.