Antone Martinho III ’13 calls himself a conservative Republican. He is adamantly pro-life, and he firmly believes in conservatism.
And yes, he’s a student at Harvard.
“My freshman year I remember meeting a girl who insisted that she had heard about Republicans, but I was apparently the first one she ever met,” jokes Martinho, who is a “dues-paying member of the Harvard Republican Club.”
According to popular conception, conservatives are few and far between on Harvard’s liberal campus. In reality, a strong contingent of conservative students call it home.
BREAKING THE MOLD
When Molly A. Wehlage ’13 came to Harvard from Indiana—“you know, God’s country”—she was surprised by the diversity of the student body.
“I’ve always been very conservative,” says Wehlage. “I even started the Republican Club at my high school.”
And since coming to Harvard, Wehlage finds that she has grown only more committed to her beliefs.
“I think any high school student is influenced by their parents, their friends, and the environment they grew up in,” Wehlage relates, describing how the largely liberal Harvard community has pressured her to defend her views. “Being at Harvard, I’ve really grown.”
A CONSERVATIVE TEMPERAMENT
President of the Harvard Republican Club (HRC) Mike W. McLean ’12, who considers himself a “mainstream Republican,” wears his conservative stripes with pride.
McLean thinks that the perception of Harvard’s conservative population underestimates its real size because conservatives on campus tend to be a little quieter than their liberal, progressive peers.
“A lot of those people aren’t super political,” says McLean. “In my involvement in the HRC, I’ve met people who say ‘Yeah, I’m a Republican, but I wouldn’t join the Republican Club.’”
Martinho, an associate editor for The Salient, believes that conservatives tend to be less collectively raucous in their expression of political beliefs.
“[Conservatives] aren’t as vocal about a lot of things, especially in a place like this. They will often take the high and quiet road,” says Martinho. “It’s a sense of ‘We’re not the yellers!’”
McClean corroborates Martinho’s point, noting that he believes that conservatism is, in many ways, against protest as a means of political communication.
“You won’t find conservatives with signs in Harvard Yard,” McClean laughs. “You won’t find them on a hunger strike tying themselves to a tree. It’s not part of being a conservative.”
BLUE IS THE OLD CRIMSON
Sarah R. Siskind ’14 perceives Harvard’s liberal reputation to be truer of faculty than of the student body. Yet she does not feel marginalized.
“Very rarely have I felt that my views are unwelcome. Most people see my views as contributing to the debate,” says Siskind.
Siskind, who identifies as a libertarian, frequently attends events at the Institute of Politics and writes regularly for the Harvard Political Review.
During a “Harvard on the Move” run, Siskind struck up a lively debate with professor Daniel E. Lieberman ’86 that later continued in email.
“We got into a heated political discussion about the nature of libertarianism and how it applies to public works,” says Siskind. “I was very breathless by the end. What was normally a run on the shorter side left us very winded.”
Siskind has come to look forward to these types of conversations.
“I think even though he recognizes our differences in views he respects those differences,” insists Siskind. “It’s certainly entertaining and it certainly makes me run faster.”
Many conservative students on campus take their position in the ideological minority as a chance to learn from their peers, using the opportunity to think critically about their political beliefs and refining their ideas.
“I think conservatives receive the best education at Harvard, there’s no doubt about that in my mind, whether that’s by your professors in the classroom or your peers in the dining hall,” says McClean.
Martinho, who was at first a bit overwhelmed by Harvard’s largely liberal student body, describes how he has since acclimated to life at Harvard.
“From my perspective, it’s a lot of fun to be a Republican at Harvard. It’s entertaining to me, everyday. That definitely wasn’t my perspective when I first got here,” laughs Martinho.
And he assures that there’s fun in the rivalry.
“One of my best friends is extremely liberal. We end up rolling on the floor laughing about politics.”