Often we look at college as the time in our lives when we are able to truly experiment with who we want to become, when we can express ourselves and our beliefs without fear of being shut down, when everyone is open-minded and can debate respectfully. For many people, that idealistic experience holds true; others, however, find their beliefs and convictions constantly challenged and ridiculed because they are viewed by many as old-fashioned, narrow-minded, self-serving, uncompassionate or over-privileged.
“It’s still kind of jarring when the fact that I’m a Republican kind of discounts my opinion on every matter,” said Siddhartha Nutulapati, a second year Computer Science major and the vice president of the RIT College Republicans. This is frequently the case of those with conservative beliefs on campuses that are overwhelmingly liberal — not just in student opinions, but also in professors’ opinions, course content, guest speakers and extracurricular events.
As always, it’s difficult to find explicit evidence of subtle repressions, and rarely do college students outright state their disdain for a particular group of people; if you pay attention, however, the signs are there. In a room full of assorted RIT students, you could be reasonably confident that a joke at Fox News’ expense would get, at minimum, a few appreciative chuckles from around the room. In a similar room, however, an expression of concern at the recent Planned Parenthood scandal would net you hostile glances and aggressive assertions about the radicalism of conservative media.
This disparity is no coincidence; according to the Pew Research Center, more than 65 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and around 60 percent did the same in 2012. In the commencement ceremonies for the top 100 universities in the United States, as defined by the U.S. News and World Report, 49 of the speakers were identified by the Young America's Foundation as being liberal, while only nine were identified as conservative; the rest had no identifiable political affiliations, which were determined by demonstrated public support of “ideological causes through speaking, writing, serving in public office, commentating or financial contributions.” In addition, the overwhelming majority of college professors identify as at least liberal, if not leaning to the very far left, as discovered by the New York Times and Inside Higher Ed.
What does this have to do with conservative students? Many argue that not only is the majority of the population on most college campuses liberal (excluding some specifically conservative schools such as Hillsdale College or Grove City College), those with conservative views attending such universities sometimes face discrimination and unfair treatment simply because of their conservatism. In April of 2014, third year Northeastern University student Megan Haas told ABC News
“It comes across that there only is a liberal campus," third year Northeastern University student Megan Haas told ABC News in 2014. "That’s how I felt most of the way in college so far; that there is no room for conservatives there.”
"It’s just kind of how it is.”
“You definitely notice it. It’s just kind of how it is,” Nutulapati said. “There have been instances where if there is a conversation going on between people, I will actively withdraw myself.”
Nutulapati is by no means the only college-aged conservative who has felt the pressure to remain silent in a friendly debate among peers. A quick search of “#MyLiberalCampus” on Twitter shows many personal experiences of conservative college students facing discrimination because of their political beliefs. One such tweet reads "On #MyLiberalCampus a professor asked Republicans to raise our hands and said 'Oh, Republicans, I wish that there were more of you … on Mars.'" Nutulapati said he had not experienced this level of discrimination from professors at all in his time at RIT.
According to NPR, Intelligence Squared held a debate on this subject in March of this year titled “Do Liberals Stifle Intellectual Diversity on College Campuses?” Before the debate, 33 percent of the audience was in favor of this statement and 21 percent were opposed, with the rest being undecided; afterward, the scales shifted to 59 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed. Even if the results of one debate do not provide enough evidence to come to a conclusive ruling, it is definitely food for thought.
Nutulapati stated that although he has noticed a large political divide at other colleges, RIT has a more open and accepting attitude toward differing opinions than most other liberal colleges he has experienced. He has found that, although the majority of students at RIT have liberal tendencies, they are open to differing viewpoints and are willing to consider all sides of an issue. However, the environment at RIT may be the exception rather than the rule.
"It’s not that one side is bad or one side is good. We’re both trying to be good, it’s the way we’re trying to approach it.”
“In the end, we’re trying to approach the same issues and the same problems. It’s not that one side is bad or one side is good. We’re both trying to be good, it’s the way we’re trying to approach it,” Nutulapati said.
Liberal students on college campuses often have their beliefs validated while conservatives are consistently having theirs challenged, and sometimes even laughed at. While a good debate is beneficial for all involved, persistent discrimination and mockery is not and is indeed actively harmful, not to mention the fact that it goes against an ideal that lies at the core of liberalism — that no one should have their views or rights repressed simply because of who they are, whether it be on the inside or out. The reality is that this "us vs. them" mindset is a microcosm of some of the greater political issues facing the country as a whole, and does neither party any sort of favor.
Nutulapati encouraged those of all political affiliations to attend club meetings on Mondays at 8 p.m. in Liberal Arts A201 and engage in healthy political discussion. The RIT College Republicans and the RIT College Democrats participated in a debate moderated by the RIT Debate Society on October 19. For more information about upcoming political events, follow the clubs’ Facebook pages and keep an eye out for advertisements on campus.