Where Right is Wrong: Is AU a safe space for conservative politics | The American Word

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Where Right is Wrong: Is AU a safe space for conservative politics

Shayna Vayser | 12/7/15 6:14pm
| Updated 1/1/16 11:22pm

Jaclyn Merica /
American Word Magazine

This article was originally published in American Word’s 2015 fall issue. 

For many students, American University provides an inclusive and diverse environment that facilitates a discourse on socioeconomic and political issues within its populace. Others find themselves met with abrasive opposition when voicing their opinions, including accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and ignorance.

“I never get a chance to say what I believe. There’s no respect,” said freshman Trevor Patton, whose conservative views only account for 9 percent of AU’s undergraduate population, according to a recent poll conducted by the American Word. “I immediately get shut down for my views”.

Considering that American University prides itself on increased levels of diversity in political advocacy and activism, the on-campus Republican Party is severely marginalized. Over 60% of the 200 students polled described themselves as Democrats. Additionally, two-thirds of those identifying as Independents more closely associated with liberal schools of thought. This austere skew has made it difficult for many to find traction within AU’s political spectrum.

Freshman Tess Harkin has struggled to identify with whom she calls the “loving liberals.”

“I’m more fiscally conservative,” said Harkin, “and sometimes it can be intimidating to not fit into what people think your political belief should be. I’m not a textbook Democrat.”

The apparent political polarization of the two dominant parties has made moderation in federal policy somewhat unattainable. With the extensive hostility on campus, it’s not difficult to understand why adversaries in Congress are failing to compromise.

On-campus animosity escalated when an anonymous group tore down ‘Defund Planned Parenthood’ posters around campus.

“This group attacked us and refused to tell us who they were,” said Sam Shumate, Vice President of the AU College Republicans. “Evidently, the group are a bunch of cowards who have nothing better to do than bring others down. In the end, it’s all about free speech and liberals can’t stand it when you oppose them.”

This event demonstrates a clear divide within the student body and addresses the liberties provided under the First Amendment. Any speech that isn’t hate speech is protected. Additionally, the AU Guide to Student Rights and Responsibilities reads:

You have the right to freedom of expression and dissent. You have the responsibility not to deny or infringe on the rights of others.

In response to the incident, Student Government President Sasha Gilthorpe stated, “We have a mutually held responsibility to allow others to speak up. We can disagree, but silencing one another isn’t the answer.”

Students from both parties tended to agree. Undergraduate student Ranya Shannon said that while she firmly disagrees with a majority of what Republicans believe, “they have a right to their own voices and their opinions matter.” Gwynn Pollard, another Democrat, responded by saying, “It’s a little sad that people can’t be respectful of others’ opinions. Even if you don’t agree with someone, there’s a right way to disagree. I feel like all of us here should know that.”

Why, at an elite university, are people so insensitive to the views of others?

“People take it personally when others are not on their side,” said freshman Sandra Akufo. “No matter where you go, people are always going to bash liberal or conservative views.”

There are several issues at play: the underrepresentation of conservative values in discussion, the outrage that the political minority feels, and the lack of civil discourse taking place.

“We shouldn’t have to worry about what we say and how people respond,” said freshman Taylor Sheldon. “Conservative voices on campus are definitely the minority and a lot of the time I am very careful with what I say, not because I’m ashamed of what I believe in but because of the feedback I may get.”