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Luxurious Stigma: The Plight of Liberal Arts Conservatives

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There is something to be said for this millennial generation of activists, thinkers and intellectuals who have MLA citations in our blog posts, hashtags as footnotes and translate Audre Lorde into 140 characters. Many of us can catch ourselves attempting to spew high theory as passing conversations, running the risk of essentializing revolutionary work or believing that what we know is all there is on everything. That arrogance at its finest. Tufts University, my soon to be alma mater, is swimming in an ocean of @ctivists who do the most critical thinking by sharing controversial articles which have a hit or miss quality of actually offering insight to an issue. More often than not, it's a sea of liberal, progressive, "radical" students, often but not exclusively, white and depending on the issue, queer. But there are rare occasions that a conservative voice rises from the "liberal" masses and questions something many blindly believe.

Tufts, at one time, had a popular conservative periodical that was disbanded this past winter after making light of sexual assault in their annual Christmas Carole spoof (this is after a long history of using racism and misogyny as ways to critique the university) but now we have a new "independent political journal" that has so far been less incendiary. However, a recent article titled, "Changing Tufts' Political Dialogue: What to Expect When You're Accepting" gave me some pause.

Well written and clear, the article delineates how many Tufts students, as I believe many liberal arts students, cannot have constructive conversations about conservative views. The author illustrates his growth from liberal by association to thoughtful conservative, with nuanced and varied views. His focus, however, was on how unsafe or stigmatized conservative students felt on this campus, and I was genuinely shocked. I could not fathom that in the sea of mediocre liberalism there was actually any anti-conservative spaces on this campus. Interacting with some of the most "informed" progressive students I have heard more problematic and hurtful viewpoints than seemingly conservative. The "outrage" students have toward conservative students speaks more to faux liberal ignorance than political difference.

Many, hard working, well-studied liberal students believe that their education has absolved them from the responsibility of challenging the systems they benefit from and reproduce. Conservative students seem to be caught in the crossfire of liberals trying to be down for causes of which they have no actual connection to understanding. In this aspect, I do offer the only bit of sympathy I can. But what slays me particularly is how conservatives use this "liberal" space as a place to claim victimization. To be conservative is a choice that stems from upbringing and learning. To be conservative require an explicit declaration of self that is not afforded to countless groups. Any stigma received is a reaction to sharing a very private bit of personal ideology. To be stigmatized for conservatism is a luxury, and we need to interrogate said luxury.

There are no systematic structures that inhibit conservative thought or devalue those opinions. America is a conservative country, especially in its liberal politics. Shy of being an overt bigot, conservatism runs though both our American political parties and is pervasive on this campus. Though vilified and essentialized though Fox News as the masthead for American conservatism, even the nuanced, less clearly problematic conservative views are central to our national political discourse. The feeling conservatives feel should not be in the same conversation as feeling unsafe.

For people of color, queer people, female identifying persons, the lack of safety is a daily and violent experience, especially on campuses like Tufts. The institutional push back against any sort of identity based study, the lack of mental health resources for marginalized communities, and the failure to comply with federal sexual assault policy illustrates how feeling unsafe operates on this campus. Not being able to share why you love guns or question immigration policy in public spaces is an iota of the discomfort marginalized people feel on this campus with systems erasing and devaluing of our experiences. Whatever discomfort one may experience having an unpopular view does not resonate in a larger conversation of othering and marginalization. I would be hard pressed to believe any conservative student was ever told their critique of Tufts climate painted them as "being ungrateful" or "whining" (#ShtLiberalsSayToMe).

I want to offer conservative students two thoughts. The first, these college liberals aren't doing that much better for marginalized voices than you are. The average progressive activist does not reserve the right to condescend or condemn your beliefs thinking theirs are superior. I, in some ways, respect you more for letting me know explicitly you don't support or validate grievances of systemic oppression, so I can avoid even trying to explain myself. As I've said before, I'd rather see a conservative a mile a way that wake up next to a close-minded liberal. At least you own your position. The second is this: Please don't use your temporally unpopular opinion serve as a way to victimize your experience on liberal arts campuses. Unlike the lives of countless marginalized persons, it will get better. The higher up in education and professional careers you find yourself, you will find larger and larger "pockets" of conservatism that should make you feel at ease. Conservatism is not an ideology you have to carry on your back, and you are exponentially safer than you will ever know.