Spotlight: Jessica Steffen

There is no denying that Yale’s campus is extremely liberal. As a result, our student body preaches day in and day out the values of acceptance and tolerance. However, for Jessica Steffen – a freshman from Hutchinson, Kansas – the political climate of Yale has proven neither accepting nor tolerant. As a proud republican and Trump supporter, Jessica has not only felt ostracized by the Yale community due to her beliefs but threatened. After admitting in the class of 2020 Facebook group over the summer before her freshman year that she would be supporting Donald Trump in the upcoming election, she was verbally attacked by numerous classmates via social media and made to feel as though her presence at Yale was unwanted. Before having even physically met a single member of the Yale community, she was told that she did not belong. HC wanted to see how Jessica's political beliefs and background have shaped her experience thus far.

Photo via Jessica Steffen

Q: Describe Yale’s political climate in one word.

A: Stifling.

Q: Where do your political beliefs stem from?

A: I am a very religious person. Not in the sense that I follow the rules of a religion, like believing that singing hymns is a superior worship in God's eyes than modern music, but rather in the sense that I believe whole-heartedly that God has saved me despite my imperfections, and that whoever believes in Him and acts in faith and love will have everlasting life, and I will publicly advocate for Christianity and Christ until I die. As a strong believer in God and the word, a lot of my political views stem from my faith. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize that where I was raised – in farmland, central Kansas – has had a huge effect on what I believe. I come from a family of strong republicans, a town of republicans, a state of republicans, and a region of republicans.

Q: What were some of the initial reactions from fellow Yalies when you first were open about your political beliefs?

A: A select few Yalies have been extremely accepting of my political stance. These people have become some of my best friends. Many more, however, have treated my telling them of my political view as a "coming out," as if my political stance was a big secret that I'd kept and was ashamed of or that I was scared of admitting due to the potential reactions of the people I told. Most are initially fine with my being a republican, but once there is any conversation of substance, about anything that matters at all, they start to think I'm a hateful monster that has no love or empathy for people. I've even been told that, "If you believe in that, we can't be friends.” This was amazing to me, because these same Yalies preach acceptance and tolerance like it's going out of style.

I came to Yale knowing that it was extremely left-leaning, but being from central Kansas I had no clue what "extremely left-leaning" would feel like or what it entailed. After I made it public that I would be attending Yale in the fall, I had countless people approach me and say, "Congratulations! Don't let them change you. Don't forget your values and where you came from." It was reactions like this, and things I'd read about Yale, that made me believe that I was essentially entering foreign land where people believed almost the opposite of everything I did. Once I arrived, I did my best to be as politically correct and minimally controversial as possible. Within the first few months, I was surprised at how human everyone was. It wasn't until after the election that people looked at me with significantly more hostility and even hatred.

Q: Speaking of the election: What was the campus vibe after Donald Trump won the election? How did that affect you?

A: The campus vibe after the election was unlike anything I've ever seen or heard before. My suitemates were crying, and protests broke out all throughout campus with screaming of profanities and threats of physical harm to Donald Trump and his supporters. The morning after the election, I remember hearing that an Economics lecture course had made a midterm optional because students were too distressed to be tested. I was in shock – not at the election, of course, but at the reaction that it had elicited. I said this to one of my suitemates, and I am not afraid to be quoted on it, that it was the most childish behavior I have ever seen. I struggled to find a reason to empathize because I know that if Hillary would have won, I wouldn't have shed a single tear. I wouldn't have protested and I wouldn't have wished harm upon Hillary supporters or Hillary herself. I would have woken up the morning after the election, and I would have taken my midterm like an adult. The whole experience was unreal.

Q: What is your least favorite thing about Yale’s political climate?

A: My least favorite thing about Yale's political climate is the fact that as a liberal campus, it preaches acceptance and tolerance, but I have very rarely been approached with acceptance and tolerance as a republican. People, including myself, are scared to share their views in fear of being mistreated and hated. This does not sound like acceptance and tolerance to me. All I'm saying is that acceptance and tolerance should not have exceptions.

Q: So, could you ever see yourself dating a liberal?

A: At this point in my life, I can't. While political stances definitely aren't everything, ideologies and parties represent very fundamental beliefs that a person has. As a conservative, it is probably safe to say that a liberal and I will not agree on many important foundational values that would be important to agree on for a relationship to actually prosper.

Campus Correspondent and writer for Her Campus Yale. Member of the Women's Basketball Team and Social Chair of Pi Beta Phi Sorority. Interests include dogs, sports, and all things California :) 

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