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Politics Is Personal — Expect It

By Casey M. Allen
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

United States President Donald J. Trump’s rise within the Republican Party has forced conservatives across the country to decide whether to embrace him, condemn him, or stay silent. This is no less true for right-wing students on Harvard’s campus. The Harvard Republican Club, for example, chose not to endorse Trump in 2016 — calling him a “threat to the survival of the Republic” — yet reversed that decision to endorse the president’s reelection campaign earlier this year.

The number of self-identified conservative students on campus has dwindled since Trump received the Republican nomination four years ago, and far fewer Harvard students supported Trump in the presidential election than supported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Many of the remaining Harvard conservatives have expressed frustration at what they believe to be the increasingly hostile environment on campus for Republicans, despite the fact that nearly a third of Americans identify as such.

We sympathize with those who feel uncomfortable expressing their views and part of their identity on campus. And it’s worth noting that conservative students are by no means the only ideological group that faces marginalization. That experience is shared by many students who are leftists, religious minorities, or otherwise occupy a space outside the prevailing ideological norm.

And yet we want to caution against drawing an equivalence between being a conservative and being a member of a historically marginalized group. That underrepresentation is not comparable and speaking of it as if it is — or in the same breath — is misleading and manipulative.

Moreover, conservative students do not, by virtue of their ideologies, deserve the same protections or support those minorities need. Their political beliefs are perfectly reasonable grounds for the judgment of their peers.

To be sure, we continue to believe in the freedom to voice any opinion. But that also entails a reciprocal freedom to react, dissent, and protest those opinions in as strong a manner as feels fit. And the crucial process of engaging with those we strongly disagree will inevitably be messy and leave people feeling hurt. We cannot deny those emotions on either side. Politics is personal; pretending it’s not is silly, at best.

It is critical that everyone, regardless of background or ideology, challenge their own beliefs and have their value systems challenged by others — by friends, classmates, academic advisors, and professors. Not only is this engagement a central component of the liberal arts experience Harvard offers, but it also helps transform us all into more thoughtful individuals with battle-tested beliefs that we can defend to ourselves and in public spheres beyond this campus.

Professors and other discussion facilitators should not assert their own bias in a way that discourages contributions from students with political views counter to the majority; our classrooms should not be echo chambers. Professors should welcome a breadth of opinions into a discussion and challenge their students to think critically about all of them.

But as we have opined before, the views a student expresses in the classroom are not and should not be immune from judgment. Political views have real-life consequences, and classrooms or academic forums are not hermetically sealed zones of no-consequence intellectualism. Our classrooms are part of a broader world, and the conversations we have in them bear on that world and the lives we carry into them from outside. There is no pure space of ideas, no space where we can just toss around ideas without regard for their implications.

As always, the best way forward in the face of political divisiveness is to seek out the humanity in others through open-minded, good-faith discourse. Finding that way forward is hard work — fraught with emotion, frustration, and discord — but it begins with acknowledging that what we’re doing is always more than argument and bears deeply on our lives and the world we are constantly making.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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