Campus Conservatives Club Opens Political Dialogue
It is no secret that Whitman is a predominantly liberal campus community. The vast majority of students identify with left-of-center political viewpoints, and oftentimes it can be difficult to find differing perspectives on political issues. Last year, a conservative student, sophomore (then first-year) Alexandra Calloway-Nation, decided to create a safe place for students with similar political beliefs to share their views.
“A lot of what I’m trying to do with the Campus Conservatives Club is to create a place for people with ideas that aren’t the standard liberal ideas at Whitman,” said Calloway-Nation. “I’ve tried to create a safe place where people can come and express their ideas and share dialogues with other people and spread the word around Whitman that there are other people with varying viewpoints.”
Though Whitman emphasizes diversity and openness, many students like Calloway-Nation are surprised that those themes don’t carry over to political views.
“I have some friends who are afraid to come to club meetings because they don’t want people to know who they are and that they have conservative views,” she said. “When I was looking at Whitman, I was thinking about the great education I would receive, and didn’t consider the political dynamic on campus. I learned [about] that last year in my dorm having discussions with people who weren’t very tolerant of conservative views.”
To people who have recently come to Whitman, the political dynamic seems to be extremely confined. Martha Sebald, a junior transfer student from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a member of Campus Conservatives, said she has been surprised by the one-sided nature of political discussions.
“There’s no political diversity. I’m sure any conservatives are more closeted conservatives because it can be awkward here,” she said.
Many recent events have highlighted this theme on campus. During debates screened in Maxey, students often jeered when Mitt Romney made comments, and students and professors could be seen disagreeing amongst themselves at his statements. This does not happen when President Obama speaks; if anything, it is the opposite: Students visibly express support for many of his liberal policies.
It seems odd to some that Whitman’s supposed emphasis on diversity does not extend to conservative views.
“Being liberal is so normalized on this campus and is something that people take a lot of pride in,” said first-year Ellen Ivens-Duran.
The dominant liberalism spreads through all of campus life, including classes.
“I’ve had lots of professors make jokes about conservatives that are funny to me, but could be offensive to people who have more conservative viewpoints,” said Ivens-Duran. “They assume liberal viewpoints where they may not exist. It’s hard to be the one voice of dissent in a class of 25 when you feel like no one is there to support you.”
This problem on campus can leave some students questioning if they are in fact gaining a world view, something an education at a place like Whitman emphasizes.
“It’s detrimental to the idea of a liberal arts education because all viewpoints aren’t being represented,” said Sebald. “College is for broadening yourself, and it’s hard to do that when people share the same viewpoints.”
The Campus Conservatives hope to change this atmosphere by creating discussion.
“Next semester we’re hoping to have some dialogue with the Young Democrats,” said Calloway-Nation. “We’re also definitely more of a conservative group rather than a Republican group. Most everyone in the club has agreed that we’re liberal on social issues but conservative on economic and fiscal viewpoints.”
By creating this dialogue and raising awareness of these issues on campus, conservative students hope to broaden perspectives and end the intolerance. Calloway-Nation and the Campus Conservatives are beginning to focus on these issues and work to provide a haven for many students.
“What I’ve tried to do with this is create an environment [that is] safe for people to discuss their views without being criticized,” said Calloway-Nation.