When I first arrived on campus two years ago, I clearly remember this odd feeling that I didn’t belong here. I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but I felt that the people around me didn’t understand where I’m from. Recently, I’ve overcome that sense of not fitting in, but there’s something that still nags at the back of my mind, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.
In one of my classes, one student tends to voice fairly conservative opinions. Politics can be a sensitive topic of conversation, and on this campus, which definitely leans toward liberal political views, conservative politics become even more taboo. Immediately, whenever this student raises his hand, I can see the smirks and the offhand glances, the whispering and rolling eyes. That’s what makes me uncomfortable on this campus – although I’m not sure of my political views, I do know that I come from a largely Republican family, and I can’t help but feel that every smirk or sarcastic remark is directed at them.
During my induction ceremony two years ago, I remember the speakers talking about how this was going to be a challenging time for us, and that we shouldn’t accept things at face value, that we should try to see things outside of our own point of view. Now, I can’t help but wonder if that is just talk. How many of us actually engage in conversations with those with whom we disagree? And if we do talk with them, how often do our thoughts wander to what our counter argument will be or how we’re going to convince them to agree with us?
My own friends ask me questions about my religion, about my views on abortion and other sensitive topics, and I can see them nodding along, but their eyes are blank. They aren’t really listening or trying to understand my point of view, but are thinking of exactly how to tear down everything I’ve just said.
In one class that I took freshman year, I remember participating in an exercise where a guest professor read statements about abortion rights and then we would move to different corners of the room based on whether we agreed or disagreed with the statement.
We were then encouraged to explain why we chose the corner we were in, but much of the time I remained silent. I felt uncomfortable, standing in a corner with only one or two other people and the rest on the other side of the room, and I felt as if saying anything would only make it worse. Luckily, I had a very supportive professor who had been encouraging me to speak up in class more, and so, with a deep breath, I told the class my thoughts on why abortion was an uncomfortable subject for me.
Since then, I’ve become more comfortable around campus, but I still sense this tension that comes when conservatives in class are brave enough to speak and are subsequently met with rolling eyes and snickers because their views are different than the majority of the campus. I don’t think that is right or fair, especially in the spirit of everything this university ascribes itself to be – that is, learning with an open mind and being receptive of differences of opinion.
If we want to be a school that challenges ideas, then let’s start by challenging our own. Let’s start with a blank slate, looking at both sides. My family is mostly Republican, as I mentioned, and they aren’t evil or hateful, I can assure you. They are the most loving people I know, and guess what? They believe they are right just as much as Denisonians do. So let’s bridge the gap and start listening to one another and try to understand each other. Our classes and the campus environment will be better for it.