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Many people back home in Arizona cautioned me against the “intellectual elitists” of the East Coast and the “liberal indoctrination” of the Ivy League, but I wasn’t concerned in the slightest.
I thought Cambridge would be a breath of fresh air.
Growing up, I was routinely labeled a “libtard” for daring to use terms like “rape culture” and “body positivity.” I often felt like I was swimming upstream against a current of dogmatism in my suburban high school each time I urged action on subjects like immigration and gun reform. Just seeing so many friends and family members buy into post-truth messaging made my head throb with frustration, and I eagerly looked forward to the day when I could go to college.
Since coming to campus, though, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the open contempt toward conservatives harbored by many faculty members and students alike. While the vast majority of my classmates and professors have been overwhelmingly kind, respectful, and open-minded, on more than one occasion after sharing my faith or home state with other students, I have felt politically litmus-tested. Classmates would ask follow-up questions in a thinly-veiled effort to assess whether I was sufficiently progressive for them to entertain my opinions. Perhaps other students from conservative settings can relate to the pressure to disassociate from their backgrounds.
More stunningly, I cannot even go on a run without viewing stickers on street signs that tell me “the Republican Party is a fascist junta” and that “it is impossible to be an American and a Republican.”
In all honesty, I, too, am infuriated by Republican officials’ deception and cowardice on topics like election integrity and climate change. The events of January 6 deeply disturbed me, and I empathize with the rightful anger undergirding these signs. I agree that the Republican Party has lost touch with the principles of small government it once embodied, and large portions of it are now freefalling into misinformation and racial vitriol. Many Republican politicians, for decades, have pandered to special interests at the expense of constituents and stoked the flames of race-based fear through dog-whistle politics.
Ultimately, though, I worry that the jarring, sweeping language of these “Republican Party” stickers fails to capture the variety of perspectives that exist among conservative individuals and is emblematic of a larger issue of social intimidation on campus.
Here is a confession: As a freshman in high school, I rooted for Jeb Bush in the 2016 GOP primary and practically worshipped laissez-faire economics. Seeing my party coalesce around someone as openly misogynistic and racist as Trump, however, left me jaded and disaffected. My perspectives have grown much more nuanced over time, and I now see little overlap between my personal opinions and the Republican Party’s platform. Having said that, however, I think there is real danger in haphazardly conflating Trump’s pseudo-populism with conservatism more broadly and caricaturing all individuals right-of-center as ignorant bigots.
Whenever I hear a classmate fall into this line of reasoning and maliciously censure the character of Republicans at large, I wince and reflect on how these comments are, in effect, blatant attacks against many family members and friends whom I respect and love. Too often, these caustic criticisms are lodged by people who have had limited exposure to right-wing, rural, and religious contexts. It is exactly this sort of indiscriminate condemnation that engenders resentment.
We, as a student body, lament the radicalization of the right-wing, yet occasionally find ourselves actively contributing to it as we sideline conservative voices and exclude from our circles of contact those who differ from us politically. How often do we feel warranted in severing ties and disengaging in conversation with anyone who opposes vaccination? Gun control? Abortion access?
Hurtful, noxious rhetoric is a legitimate, frightening reality, and I have no intention of downplaying the difficulty and near-impossibility of giving grace to those who peddle dehumanizing ideologies, especially when those hateful perspectives target us or our communities. Nonetheless, it is critical that we resist the urge to flatten the diversity of opinion among conservatives to the most vocal, radical, spiteful individuals on the fringes of society.
It is in deifying ourselves as the gatekeepers of human decency and marginalizing those who don’t meet our prerequisites of progressivism that we miss out on occasions to instruct and be instructed. We forgo opportunities to correct misinformation and iron out ill-informed conclusions. Similarly, in reflexively disparaging and dismissing those whose opinions challenge our own, we acidify public discourse, breed tension, and widen the partisan divide. This perceived social control and moralizing condescension fuel the anger of right-wing, counterculture, extremist groups, and we are partly to blame.
It has been my experience in life that when I give others a generous assumption or high expectations, they generally rise to the occasion. While I am not suggesting that we sanction hate or conspiracy, I am willing to argue that we will only guarantee its proliferation if we continue to intimidate, ostracize, and blacklist conservatives at our school and in the world at large.
We lose our seat at the table when we walk away.
Grant B. Williams ’25, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in the Prescotts.
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