I’ve only been at Vanderbilt for two weeks. Coming from Long Island, the South gave me a kick in my Yankee behind. I wasn’t prepared for sweating 24/7 nor having my human rights respected by drivers. Equally as stark as these shifts was the political shakeup. While Long Island assuredly lacks ethnic diversity, it encompasses the whole political spectrum. New Deal populists, lapsed-hippy liberals, and Catholic conservatives coexist peacefully. Driving down my block, one might see a Planned Parenthood lawn poster juxtaposed with a Make America Great Again bumper sticker.
The conservative and liberal presences do not coexist here. The latter dominates the former. As cited in Campus Editor Sam Zern’s recent article on diversity of opinion, Vanderbilt has a poor record on accepting a range of political viewpoints. The Heterodox Academy, which tracks acceptance of political thought on college campuses, recorded that Vanderbilt is a particularly unwelcoming place for non-liberal students.
At Vanderbilt, we pride ourselves upon our inclusivity, regardless of race, religion, color or sexual orientation. However, we can’t boast about our inclusion of diverse political thought. Because universities do tend to lean liberal, we are responsible for encouraging everyone (assuming no one is being harmed) to express their opinions without fear of social consequence. And, intentionally or not, we have failed at this responsibility.
Republicans on campus are forced to spend more time distancing themselves from Trump than articulating their opinions. Conservatives mask their actual political leanings, describing themselves as “socially liberal, but economically conservative” so as to not be viewed as hateful and intolerant of difference. If you’re pro-life and hard on crime, you’re presumed to be a racist. If you want tax cuts and a more robust military, you’re written off as a backwards hillbilly. And so these opinions remain at the back of throats, huddled below the vocal chords, yearning to breathe free.
All of this being said, I’m a bleeding heart Berniecrat. While I have enjoyed the conversations I have with like-minded individuals, I have gained more from the conversations I’ve had with those across the political aisle.
Instead of allowing each side’s opinions to become sealed off into separate echo chambers, promoting open expression from each side will foster healthy, much-needed debate. The demonization of the political “other” begins to abate.
Soon, our generation will be at the forefront of national politics. Therefore, it is imperative that our universities inculcate good political etiquette that can be replicated in state courthouses and at corner demonstrations and on Capitol Hill. If that happens, it is possible that, when we take the reins, the political polarization that has shaken our democracy to its core will diminish. We must fix the mistakes of our past leaders.
So please–I want to hear about the benefits of tightening up on immigration. I want to see Reagan/Bush ‘84 tanks. I want to see you, Vandy conservatives. I won’t think you’re homophobic if you want to debate abortion policy. Show yourselves as you truly are; don’t hold back on us liberals.
Max Schulman is a first-year in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.