Conservatives discuss “right” to speak on liberal campus

Emily Lin-Jones

It’s no secret that Whitman is an overwhelmingly liberal campus. Liberal viewpoints are so prevalent within the student body that it is difficult to pinpoint any real conservative population within the larger whole. Though right-leaning students exist, many are hesitant to be open about their views.

“It can be really scary to come out and say [you’re conservative],” said senior Bryant Fong, a registered Republican and former Opinion writer for The Pioneer. “I know a kid that was pretty conservative and ended up transferring out of this school. It gets that scary.”

Fong faced difficulties as the lone conservative voice at The Pioneer, including the controversy caused by an article he wrote advocating support for the U.S. military.

“I got really slandered for it. I had a whole bunch of difficulty trying to get it published,” Fong said.

He noted that his experience as a public conservative on campus had both ups and downs.

“I don’t want to shove anything down anyone’s throats, but it’s nice to have a refreshing perspective once in a while. I know I’ve been targeted as that perspective before, which is sometimes annoying and sometimes cool. It stimulates discussion, which is a good thing.”

Other students agreed that the large number of liberals on campus can discourage conservatives from expressing their opinions.

“It’s just intimidating sometimes. I don’t think it’s an active seek-and-destroy type of thing; it’s just part of the atmosphere on campus. I don’t blame anybody for it; it’s just the way it is,” said senior Kyle Moen.

Moen described himself as having libertarian views. In spite of the intimidation factor, Moen testified that his experience as a conservative at Whitman has been far from negative.

“There’s a facet of it that’s nice… It’s nice to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with you,” said Moen. “I was definitely more conservative when I came here. My views on some things have moderated, and on some things they’ve stayed the same. In all cases they’ve become more informed, and that’s what coming to college is all about. The people that you meet and the conversations that you have sitting outside your dorm room are just as important to your development as a person and as a responsible citizen as the Biology 112 course that you’re taking.”

Senior politics major Adam Michel is positive about his experience as a political minority.

“I think it’s great. I knew my political views when I chose to come here, and I knew the political views of the campus. I think that [other views] challenge what I believe and force me to find the roots of my beliefs and make them stronger. Sometimes you have to flesh out your argument a little more so you can gain respect from your professors and peers, but at the same time, you always have something different to say.

Despite Whitman’s reputation as a close-knit campus and its high student retention rate, not every conservative student’s experience at Whitman has been a pleasant one.

“Every once in a while somebody surprises you in the wrong way,” said Moen.

Sophomore Emily Pavela chose to take a leave of absence in a large part because she felt ostracized due to her differing political views.

“It’s like a group acceptance culture,” Pavela said of Whitman’s political environment. “Many [students] appear to be disengaged politically and identify with what the group culture stands for so they don’t stand out and get chastised for what they really feel.”

Pavela said that although she enjoyed Whitman academically, she sensed hostility from others due to her social conservatism.

“Classes were always a comfortable place to discuss differing opinions and perspectives. However, outside of my classes, my comfort zone began to disintegrate,” Pavela said.

Pavela also cited a general lack of diversity on campus as a factor in her decision to leave.

“I think in the end, this all links back to diversity . . . some at Whitman were eager to listen to the stories of others, while others were shut out of the student body for being different from the majority. I decided I needed to search for an institution with the same academic standards as Whitman but with a more diverse and accepting student body,” Pavela said.

Other conservative students have found that the culture of discourse at Whitman tends too extremely towards acceptance to foster real political discourse.

“I think most people are actually scared to ask about social issues. People are scared to know that someone close to them believes something they don’t,” said Michel.

Despite this, Michel expressed satisfaction with his Whitman experience.

“It’s always great to strive for diversity in discourse, but I don’t see a fundamental problem with where we’e at here . . . I love Whitman; it’s a great place. Academics are less than half of what I consider to be school here; I’m very involved in the Outdoor Program and SSRA classes.”

“[Being conservative] is just another facet of our lives,” said Moen. “It’s not necessarily something that defines who we are.”