College campuses today are showing themselves to be bastion of liberal and left wing ideology, so says the sentiment being widely distributed in many media places. To some, colleges are becoming a land that is inhospitable for conservatives in a variety of ways. Numerous controversial speakers have been protested as they’ve attempted to go to college campuses around the country, people like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos have been met with fierce disapproval. These events have led to concerns over free speech. Others worry that the conservatives are being socially excluded, making them into outcasts surrounded by liberals. Even more worrisome are direct harassment, or even threats of violence towards conservatives on college campuses.
College campuses aren’t all the same, not by any means. There are universities with strong histories of conservatism. To get into how conservatives themselves are experiencing life at the University of Redlands, it’s important to ask them directly. Four undergraduate students who identify as conservative were asked what conservatism means to them, what their experiences have been and what they would do differently.
University of Redlands senior, Peter Kaffen:
“I think it’s kinda cool,” Kaffen said in response to being asked how it is to be a conservative on campus.
“A lot of liberals, they want to put down free speech,” said Kaffen. “Conservatives say no, I’m gonna say whatever I like. That’s my right.”
Kaffen describes that identifying as a conservative today is “controversial and sexy.”
“You kind of have this controversial edge you know, kinda like how they had in the 60s, the liberals, they were very controversial, they were hip, they were vogue, you saw how they dressed they were sexy,” Kaffen said. “Now I think the conservatives are sexy. You see the liberals, they’re so scared of their own shadows, they’re so sensitive, they gotta have their safe spaces and they’re afraid to say it how it is.”
As the interview moved on towards issues in our society, Kaffen explained the difference between him and progressives at the University of Redlands.
“I think a big difference between me and a lot of liberals or progressives on this campus is I really don’t see race or color.”
When asked about what should be done differently, Kaffen had a solution.
“Fuckin ball up.”
Kaffen shared his journey over the years to identifying as conservative.
“Freshmen year, I was far more left,” said Kaffen.
In spring 2017, University of Redlands Convocations and lectures hosted, American conservative and political commentator, Ben Shapiro who greatly influenced Kaffen.
“That changed me a lot,” said Kaffen. “That actually got the ball rolling. Everything he said I was like, fuck, I feel that way. It resonated with me.”
“It’s fun!” Described Kaffen on being a conservative on campus.
University of Redlands junior, Gina MacIsaac:
When asked about what it means to be a conservative MacIsaac shared that, “freedom of speech is a big one.”
“Government should not control people’s lives, we should control the government,” said MacIsaac. “Do what you want, less government interference is better.”
MacIsaac shared that her conservative perspective is stifled in the classroom.
“The only reason it’s a big thought is politics are brought into every conversation and my voice seems completely drowned out,” MacIsaac said. “If you come with another point of view to the class, you’re automatically wrong. I don’t always feel as accepted as [I] believe everyone should be.”
In a classroom environment, MacIsaac explained that professors should be accepting to different perspective.
“I think professors should be more accepting of other people’s views,” shared MacIsaac. “I don’t think it just lies on the students, it’s the professors who are initiating the conversations. I think if they’re not open to the other side, or the other opinions, how can we ever expect students to be accepting? It falls a little more on the professor’s side.”
MacIsaac explained an experience sharing a conservative comment with a professor.
“Automatically after I said something it was rebutted,” said MacIsaac. “It should be a place where we talk openly about different things, that’s the point whole point of a liberal education.”
University of Redlands senior, Jorge Moreno:
Moreno shared what it means to him to be a conservative.
“Traditional values, a lot of patriotism,” said Moreno. “I’d consider myself more third position, really centrist.”
At times being a conservative on campus at the University of Redlands can be difficult.
“Being a conservative on campus is kinda harsh. Academia tends to be very left.”
“Getting your opinions out there is always shut down. Sometimes you have to go with the crowd. I’m a witch during the witch trials.”
“When I talk about things such as immigration reform […] I tend to get a lot of faces and people tend to argue. A few times people outside of the school people tell me to go kill myself. Normal stuff you get from people overreacting.”
In contrast to people outside of school, Moreno remarked with relative positivity about his experience.
“I tend to have very intellectual conversations at school,” said Moreno. “95 percent of the people I can have an intellectual conversation with.”
In order to subsist as a conservative on campus, Moreno explained that he must suppress his opinions.
“I wish my opinion could be heard more. I feel like I have to go with the flow more to appease my professors and appease my peers, even though I don’t like to appeasing other people […] it’s a survival mechanism here.”
“I would say more open dialogue,” shared Moreno in what could be done differently.
University of Redlands sophomore, Matthew Rafeedie.
“I think a conservative purpose of family values, taking care of one another, not really relying on the government for that type of stuff is the main reason for being conservative,” explained Rafeedie.
A trip to the midwest was a significant experience for Rafeedie in understanding the 2016 presidential elections.
“I was more liberal, I was actually very liberal when I first got here. I saw the election of 2016, saw how divisive it was and how misunderstood the Republicans were.”
“I visited Minnesota over the summer and saw Trump country and how much differently they live than we do. I started to understand how people could vote for Trump, how hopeless people in the middle of the country feel.”
Rafeedie described that “it was hard” to be a conservative on campus. The focus of this difficulty moved towards professors.
“It’s difficult to express your opinion in class because you don’t feel like anybody will understand or think about it in the way that you understand, or even want to hear what you think so it keeps me from participating sometimes.”
“I end up listening a lot,” explained Rafeedie.
When asked what could be done differently, Rafeedie called on professors to clarify when they are sharing their personal opinions in the classroom.
“If I had to change anything, I think the professors should make it clear when there’s open time for discussion and protecting the kids who have differing opinions,” said Rafeedie. “Then if they want to give their personal opinion as long as they tell you that ‘hey this is what I believe, it’s not necessarily what I expect you to write on a test or what I expect you to believe’ then I’m okay with that. Some of my professors will say, ‘this is my personal opinion,’ but when they just say something in the middle of class that is backhanded towards any politician, whether it’s Republican or Democrat without making it clear that it’s just an opinion then I think that’s detrimental so I think that they need to make it clear when there’s [an] opinion and make it clear when there’s [a] fact and understand that there are differing opinions.”
What is apparent is there’s difficulty being experienced as conservatives on campus generally, but it’s not all negative. All of the people remarking that they have liberal friends and live normally. The focus of the grievances were levied primarily towards the classroom. Professors are portrayed, not as someone to be feared per se, but as figures whose influence might be too strong and those who might penalize conservatives for their opinions, either in discussions or in assignments.
Editor’s Note: The original placement of “Conservative Students On Campus: A Call To Be Heard” in the opinion section was a mistake and has been correctly moved to the culture section. This article is not representative of reporter, William Dahlin’s opinion but is of the interview subjects.
Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Halie West.