The Elephant in the Room: Being a Conservative on a Liberal Campus

Saying you’re a Conservative on a Liberal campus — some people will care, some people won’t care, some people will really care. I’ve experienced a variety of reactions on campus — from close friends, classmates, a professor or two — once they realize I am politically Conservative. But I have been lucky to learn from every one of those interactions, and I hope the people I’ve spoken with can say the same.

I came from a fairly Conservative state (a swing state technically, but traditionally Conservative nonetheless) to a Liberal one, and a few things become clear pretty quickly; the first being, most people assume you are a Liberal. Whenever the conversation shifts to politics, whether it be in the dining hall, classroom, or Sakai forum, the general assumption is that everyone present has the same beliefs. A comment on gun control or immigration policy could be thrown out by the professor or another student in a way that requires no other response than agreement. As a result, my thoughts and reasoning will essentially be shut down before I even have a chance to verbalize them. Actually voicing my beliefs can be daunting, and staying quiet seems easier than getting into, what I assume will end in an argument.

And while I realize going into an interaction with the presumption that it will end badly is unfair to the other person — just as each person deserves to be heard out, each person also deserves to be presumed mature and capable of intelligent, fruitful discussion — my experience has shown that I need to be prepared to take the harsh language and shots people will take at my character.

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That being said, I am passionate about what I believe. I enjoy speaking with people that are also passionate about what they believe — but we are all still learning how best to navigate the harder topics, how to balance our passion and emotions with polite discourse.

What I find to be the most frustrating, however, is when I, or people with a similar political stance, are not even given the chance to share our views. Conservative speakers have been discouraged to come to campus; speeches have been interrupted; right-leaning students have been kicked off the Targum or subjected to heavy editing. But at the end of my freshmen year, then-president Barack Obama honored Rutgers University by being the 2016 Commencement speaker and addressed this very topic. Referring to the backlash that came when Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement, he said, “The notion that [the Rutgers community] or this country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say — I believe that’s misguided. I don’t think that’s how democracy works best when we’re not even willing to listen to each other.”

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Whether you’re Conservative, Liberal, anywhere in between, or could live the rest of your life comfortably without hearing the word “politics” ever again, there are two things to remember: be informed and be respectful. It is the duty of everyone — politically-mind or not — to know what is happening around them as best they can. And this may mean switching the channel from CNN to FOX, scrolling through the Wall Street Journal along with the New York Times, following a journalist on Twitter that has a different view than you.

The more information you take in, the better informed you become, and the more impactful and meaningful your voting and conversations will be. And finally, respect —  you don’t learn anything from speaking. So, give your classmates, professors, friends, family members, the chance to talk and explain why they have the opinions and beliefs that they do. The conversations are less likely to turn into arguments and instead be opportunities for understanding.