Following the reality of President Donald Trump’s election, a divisive separation opened between two sides of American society, whereby extensive bashing of political opinions and disregard for rational discussion ensued. As two liberals living in America, in our experience this disregard is primarily directed at conservative Americans or conservative belief systems. In our view, this disregard has always existed, but its effect has been amplified as politics becomes more divisive than ever before.
The realities of such a situation are no less present at Harvard. In dorm entryways, at campus protests, from friends and teaching fellows and professors. In all these spaces, constantly, conservative opinions are misunderstood or even mocked. Witnessing this relentless political criticism becomes tiresome, with many of the most vocal critics being misinformed or simply joining a perceived anti-conservatism.
With a lack of conservative opinion on campus, commonly perpetuated liberal beliefs are reaffirmed by many, establishing perpetual criticism without opposition. With a self-proclaimed mission of “educating the citizens and citizen-leaders of our society,” the atmosphere at Harvard must promote multiple perspectives in order for this education to be truly valuable.
As controversial as this may seem, that includes conservative thought. Students here should be amenable to considering the political beliefs of others, even if entirely opposite their own, or in the direction of conservatism. Students must understand that refusing to consider opposing viewpoints runs directly counter to Harvard’s mission and the self-proclaimed open-mindedness that many students tout. By outright rejecting opposing viewpoints, these liberal students are no different from some of the more “close-minded” conservatives they deplore.
Neither of us arrived at Harvard maintaining conservative positions. However, after establishing deep friendships with conservatives, we’ve had the opportunity to learn from and consider their opinions. This is an experience that we are fortunate enough to have experienced. Before arriving in Cambridge, our communities, teachers, families, and friends were mostly liberal.
In our respective predominantly conservative states, our social communities acted as self-proclaimed liberal “safe-havens.” As a result, we never experienced much contact with nor heard the beliefs of conservatives. Because of this lack of exposure to contrasting viewpoints, we became misinformed about opposing perspectives. We had been told that conservatives held certain adverse qualities. Upon coming to Harvard, we expected the campus to be dominated by negative remarks about Republicans and continuous declaration in opposition to the president. And this has mostly held true.
However, the conservatives we’ve met here have taught us a lesson that many others should heed: Don’t disregard contrasting beliefs for the basic nature of their existence. Doing so results in a shielded perception of the world. Harvard claims to desire a diverse body of students, but can that goal truly be accomplished if the class isn’t well-represented politically or ideologically?
While there are certainly students at Harvard who maintain open-mindedness, there persists a strong tendency to dismiss conflicting perspectives. As a result, those few conservatives often feel as though they have to hide their beliefs at an institution that supposedly encourages open political dialogue. This directly contradicts Harvard’s mission of free thought and open dialogue.
Our opinions have generally not changed, but listening to the ideas of our conservative friends has allowed for a greater understanding of contemporary society. We are able to better understand the intricacies of the differences between our own liberal arguments and those of our conservative friends and peers.
The open-mindedness of truly listening to and understanding conservative thought is a practice that many liberals believe they follow, but in actuality rarely practice. By considering the reasoning of those with differing political opinions, students’ arguments can become strengthened as they understand and are able to dissect opposing angles. Some may even change their own stances — which, at such a critical point for personal development, is ideal.
At Harvard, students must remain wary of becoming ensnared within the bubble of conservative criticism. To avoid such a trap requires a willingness to listen to and hear political opinions different from one’s own. All too often, we find comfort in surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals, excluding the opportunity of expanding awareness in other schools of thought. By instead opening ourselves to opposing political thought, we may all learn and benefit from a profound diversity of thought Harvard should encourage.
Noah D. Dasanaike ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Alec N. Kennison ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House.