Graphic by Aryn Lee
The high school prides itself in its accepting, open and progressive community. For the most part, this rings true as we have clubs dedicated to advocating for the rights and issues of many student demographics. However, it is not a coincidence that the Young Republicans Club was forced to shut down due to lack of membership.
Quite simply, the high school creates an unwelcoming environment for conservative students that plays on false stereotypes, silences their opinions and creates fear of ostracism for conservative students who express their opinions publicly.
Conservative students are often judged based on extreme or exaggerated views associated with the Republican party, which puts a label on them even before they express their personal beliefs. During my time at the Young Republicans Club, the overwhelming majority of members shared a similar experience when they let someone at the high school know they are conservative. It goes something like this: They tell their peers about their political affiliation only to receive looks of shock and questions along the lines of “So you own guns?” or “You’re Pro-Life?” or even “How dare you support Trump. He’s a racist.”
On the contrary, the majority of the conservatives at the high school identify with the umbrella terms “fiscally conservative” or “New England Republican” which signify a progressive stance on social issues such as LGBT rights, abortion rights, and free speech while simultaneously favoring some traditional republican values such as lower taxes, privatized healthcare and stronger immigration enforcement. Views on gun control vary in this group.
Most importantly, identifying with this part of the conservative political grouping or any other part does not automatically make you an anti-abortionist, a gun owner or a Trump supporter. Trump is one of the most divisive and controversial figures in U.S. politics as a whole as well as among conservatives. These stereotypes and negative connotations placed on all conservatives silence students from expressing valuable opinions.
In my experience, conservative students are generally unwilling to share their political views publicly in fear of retaliation. Several varsity athletes including current students and alumni have confided in me and shared that they fear being ostracized from their sport’s community for their political views.
Conservative political views can also greatly impact a relationship with a teacher, which could be detrimental to a student’s education. One former student and founding member of the Young Republicans Club told me that in a history class, he actively shared his political views throughout the whole year during class discussions. He did so bravely, in spite of the class and the teacher actively disagreeing with him. He often received foul commentary and dirty looks from fellow students after particularly heated discussions.
Personally, I have had to not disclose my political views in order to create opportunity for myself. In several social studies and english classes throughout my time at the high school, I have had to write essays and present views in class discussions other than my own in order to be accepted by the class community and have a favorable relationship with the teacher. I did this because I felt that the political precedent set by the class and the course materials such as news articles and themes found in the literature heavily favored students with liberal viewpoints.
Because of this stereotyping and hostility, conservative students at the high school do not feel as welcome as their liberal peers. The high school cannot call itself a diverse community until a peaceful coexistence and productive relationship of differently-minded students is established.
A display of diverse opinions and healthy disagreement is invaluable in preparing students for dealing with real-world situations in professional settings and beyond. Furthermore, it can go a long way in helping to bridge the massive and bitter divide that has formed in our nation’s political scene and thus forge the path for a more united America.