I had no intentions of making myself seem outlandish, but that’s the way it must have sounded.
At our weekly opinion department pitch meeting, we proposed what we would like to write about for the next week. I suggested writing about the lack of a conservative voice on campus and the isolation which many students may feel due to their political beliefs.
Blank stares, a hint of giggling and confusion were the reactions that met me. Why would you want to write about — you know — them? It was as if I had made mention of a taboo subject.
Therein lies the problem. For a university that prides itself on its openness and diversity, an entire population of students at UT are often being treated as if their opinions should not exist.
The four years at UT serve as a time for many liberal students — often those from the conservative suburbs of Texas — to become immersed with like-minded liberal peers. However, this environment is drastically different from many real world post-college careers and endeavors, where the blend of ideologies becomes blurrier. Failing to acclimate and associate with peers of opposing views can be socially detrimental in the long run, both in careers and personal spheres.
“I feel that because the attitude of tolerance towards a conservative voice is low here at UT, I have to be careful about what I say and write,” said law student Jordan Cope, who led the College of Conservative Arts and College of Liberal Arts movement last spring. “Sometimes I feel that even professors can lean a certain direction that doesn’t encourage other students to speak up.”
Over 32 percent of Republican respondents in a nationwide 2017 Gallup poll claimed that professors tend to favor a strong liberal ideology. Because of this, it is likely that conservative students feel they have smaller voices in higher education than their liberal counterparts. Fact or not, this belief augments a conservative student’s point of view that their ideology is systemically opposed at UT and other universities nationwide.
Some students from the opposing side of the political spectrum are not fully blind to this, however. Aware of their overwhelming majority at UT, some acknowledge that this majority can potentially be inhibiting to their conservative classmates.
“On a campus where their opinion isn’t the majority, I suppose it can be difficult for them to speak their mind,” said journalism freshman Claire Tichy, a member of University Democrats. “But they should be tolerated no matter what they believe, because it’s a fundamental part of our democracy.”
This concept of tolerance must be reciprocal for it to be effective. In order for civil discussion to prevail, tolerance must come from both sides and be supported no matter the issue or subject.
“We don’t have to agree on everything, but politics should never define relationships,” Cope said. “We need to be able to civilly engage with people who oppose our ideologies in a productive way and tolerate each other no matter our differences.”
Regardless of which side of the political aisle you stand on, tolerate opinions that are opposite to your own and have empathy toward those who may not have as loud of a voice as your own. In doing this, stronger campus cohesion will be the ultimate outcome.
Johnson is a journalism freshman from San Francisco, California.