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The Off-Brand Opinion: Shedding light on the Right at Vandy

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The Off-Brand Opinion: Shedding light on the Right at Vandy

Danny Harris

My name is Danny Harris, and I am a Junior Political Science & Philosophy major here at Vandy. With two years under my belt, I feel that I have learned a few things – chief among them, our campus is divided. Whether it is into Black and White Vandy, Greek life and non-Greek life or liberal and conservative, we have a lot of work to do if we want a truly integrated campus. The outsider looking in sees a tight-knit community of “happy” students between West End and 21st Ave., but us insiders know it’s a façade. My goal, ambitious as it sounds, is to work to bridge these gaps with the remainder of my time at VU.

Many would say this purely an idealist venture. They might crack a joke: “Ah, you philosophy majors, always trying to critique society.” Maybe other lovers of wisdom would waver, but not this one. Remember, we don’t have a one-trick pony here. I’m also studying Political Science, which deals with power dynamics as well as prospective and realistic prescriptions for society. Immature jests aside, I think it is possible to combine the abstract idealism of philosophy and the pragmatism of politics to bring positive change.

That positive change does not happen without communication. First things first, we must shatter the interpersonal façades and barriers that so divide us. The institutions at Vanderbilt need to be de-stigmatized. There are too many generalizations that individuals in certain groups make of individuals in other groups, especially on campus and in politics.

The loud voices of a few, in politics and at Vanderbilt, have created a false stereotype of the Republican brand rendering the majority of conservatives mostly mute.

My onus in this column is to eliminate this sometimes-warranted label of conservatives as bigots, racists or non-intellectuals. If we can remove this collective identity of us on the right, which is a barrier to communication, we might be able to get some stuff done as it pertains to the campus dialogue.

The result will entail Democrats on campus seeing their peers as not entirely self-interested monsters. It will also leave Republicans feeling that their intellectual and political ideology is somewhat valued. Hence, it really is the value deal. We hope that our off-brand opinion can provide a useful service to you whether you’re an elephant or a donkey.

-Danny Harris

When I first got to Vanderbilt last fall, I immediately recognized that something hadn’t quite met my expectations. In high school, I envisioned college as a giant fishbowl of unique ideas and perspectives swirled around endlessly by some greater force, what I would call political discourse, until a student had no choice but to encounter them all. I expected to enjoy late night conversations about pressing matters of the modern world, drafting solutions as to how we should address those problems, and then watching someone’s carefully crafted counter-argument upend the whole process, leaving the rest start again, rinse and repeat.

I rudely discovered that my expectations were not grounded in reality. Instead, I found the discourse dead, with one ideology reigning high above the rest, and its complement whimpering weakly in its shadow. Conservatism had atrophied, and with it, political debate lay silent. My expectation was pure fantasy. In those first few weeks, I quickly learned that I had a better chance of finding a wild unicorn on campus than a seriously outspoken conservative.

But unlike unicorns, an established, right-leaning voice might one day call Vanderbilt home. At this, you might think one of two things: (1) “How would a stronger Republican presence benefit my progressive, forward-thinking, and proudly liberal school?” OR (2) “What if you put a party hat on a pony?.”

To the former, a prevalent strain of dissenting thought would nurture the kind of political debate and discourse that challenges the opinions of every Commodore. Without a robust conservative presence on campus, the dominance of liberal ideology will remain unchecked and unquestioned. Without debate, how do we ever learn to defend our opinions without demeaning, demonizing or debasing those who don’t see the world the same way? Without disagreement, how do we overcome the pride that swells until we assume our own infallibility? Without friends who think differently, how do we learn to admit when we are wrong, see where we can grow and listen to those who differ?

The short answer is that we never do, but Danny Harris and I want to change that. Through a weekly column in The Hustler, we hope to present an off-brand opinion that challenges the views of our progressive-minded friends and encourages fellow conservatives to openly engage their peers in the kind of elevated discourse that should permeate our school.

I invite you to join us on this adventure. I invite you to cast off the contempt that our presidents, politicians, professors and parents have enthusiastically endorsed. I invite you to help create a Vanderbilt defined by passionate, reasoned and stimulating political discourse. In short: a campus as fantastic as those who call it home.

-Ryan Brown

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