Growing up Republican and coming from a small, preppy private high school, I had never known people to be so vocally liberal. Sure, we had had debates at school between republicans and democrats, but there had always been an equal balance of the two parties. Because of this, I had never even known the importance of looking into whether a school was more conservative or more liberal. I had never thought that political differences, or differing opinions in general, should dictate where a person goes to school.
So my first day at Tufts, I was in shock and afraid to speak. It wasn't that anyone had specifically told me I could not speak, nor that I didn't have a right to, but it was the way that many had made me feel. There was also an underlying assumption that everyone held similar, liberal views. They spoke aggressively and quite vocally, and the few that did speak out with differing opinions were chastised with “I can’t believe you would say that” and some elaborate explanation as to why the other person was wrong. There was a clear, liberal majority.
The first year was spent a bit distraught and hiding my differing opinions. I felt constrained and would call my parents to share my opinions on different topics that would be discussed both in and outside of the classroom because I was too scared to say anything in class. This would generally require me to repeat the conversation I had had earlier that day, and then explain to them what I would have said if I had had the courage. But after the millionth conversation of this kind, my father kindly quieted me halfway through with a daunting question: “Kelly, that’s great and all, but you’re saying this to the wrong person. You have a right to an opinion just like everyone else. What’s the worst they can say?”
I discovered the worst they can say when I finally decided to voice my opinion after a campus-wide debate over the abolition of Greek life. Tired, distraught, and fueled by the upset of many of my peers who felt they could not express their opinion on the topic, I decided that it was now or never to take a stand. I published an article in The Tufts Daily making points challenging many of the common beliefs that many students had taken as the ‘correct’ reaction to wanting to abolish Greek life.
Was I reprimanded for my opinion? Sure. I received a flood of comments on my Facebook feed and messenger from both strangers and friends, asking me why I published the article and how I could have such a differing opinion. There were comments published on my article anonymously, telling me, among other things, to go “abolish” myself.
But… No one physically fought me on the street. No one came up to me and publicly jeered me. On the other end, I had other conservative students privately messaging me and writing supportive Facebook posts. I had students thanking me for speaking against the common grain that was found on this campus, and attempting to create a more open-minded discussion. Suddenly, I went from feeling like none to many, and from an individual to a crowd with a voice. What I never realized was that by keeping myself silent, I kept myself from finding other students at Tufts who might have had similar opinions, and I also kept myself from allowing an open-minded discussion to occur. At the end of the day, there truly was no right and wrong answer. There were only opinions, and ultimately, all opinions mattered for common ground to be achieved!
This experience opened my eyes and made me realize how strong I can become as a conservative student on one of the most liberal college campuses in America. I gain insight from my liberal peers, whose criticism can be daunting yet forces me to open my eyes and acknowledge opinions that I would otherwise never recognize. In some ways, they change my views and in others, they strengthen them.
However, I also recognize that in that same way, without conservative students like me liberal students are blinded to what the real world is: without these counter viewpoints, differing arguments, and challenges to their opinions, they won’t grow. What a lot of conservative students do not realize, and what took me so long to realize, is that liberal campuses need us there more than anywhere else. Already, college campuses around the U.S. are so liberal that they shield the chance for intellectual diversity and open discussions.
Come to Tufts to give a different voice, and to provide the intellectual diversity this campus needs. As democrat Nicholas Kristof says in his NYTimes article “The Dangers of Echo Chambers on Campus,” give liberals a chance to “embrace the diversity [they] supposedly champion.”