Mutual respect for those with right-leaning political beliefs is lost on liberal students at the Claremont Colleges.
Most students probably come to that conclusion within their first week at Claremont. I certainly did after just a few days in Scripps’s freshman seminar course, “Core,” a mandatory curriculum to introduce—although “indoctrinate” more accurately describes my personal experience—the theories and philosophies Scripps faculty deem necessary for students’ college education (Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? was the class Bible).
I did not feel that I could freely express my own views without being shunned by my classmates and professors alike. So, I did not. I kept my head down and did my best to avoid sparking controversy.
A few weeks ago, however, I saw how personally my peers take politics upon sharing a photo of me standing with Vice-President Mike Pence and Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Knowing my Facebook audience was politically diverse, I made no political comments. Instead, I shared my excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to intern for Rodgers—the highest ranking Republican woman in Congress—and to interact with such impactful and important people in my job.
The photo should not have caused any trouble. But my Scripps College and Claremont peers begged to differ.
According to my peers, taking a photo with Vice-President Pence is anything but neutral. In fact, it constitutes direct violence and oppression against marginalized groups.
Shortly after posting the photo, I began receiving vicious comments and private messages accusing me of not caring about LGBTQ rights and attacking me for getting anywhere near the Vice-President. Close friends and distant acquaintances alike lashed out in fury, subjecting me to lectures, rants, and name-calling—all while ignoring the photo’s plainly apolitical context.
One person accused me of “ignoring the plights of marginalized people to achieve personal gain,” saying I was a person who “smiled with [their] oppressors.” Some took to mockery, inquiring, “Did you manage to ask him why he thinks women are second-class citizens?” and “How many LBGTQ folks do you need to help send to conversion therapy in exchange for reproductive rights from Pence?”. A friend asked me why I would stand next to someone who is “a threat to human rights everywhere.” A classmate simply commented, “Bitch.” Many others “liked” these comments, endorsing this shameless harassment.
How did we get here?
How did we get to the point where taking a photo with someone is an act of violence? How will we ever be able to have adult conversations if no one is ever willing to listen to those who have opposing philosophies? How can we coexist when we write off our political opponents—as well as those who dare to take photos with them—as morally bankrupt?
A mere “I saw you got to meet the Vice-President; what was that like?” to begin a friendly conversation would have been enough—or simply saying nothing at all. But instead, my peers thought the best way to respond was to confront, accuse, and lecture.
No one seems to remember what their teachers have taught them since Kindergarten: Be respectful of others. Apparently, when it comes to those with whom they disagree, many of my peers are only capable of disrespectful engagement.
For them, there is no value in one of their classmates working for a member of Congress if that member is a Republican. They are horrified that someone in the Scripps community would take a photo with the current Vice-President, a man with whom they disagree.
It is as if every student must follow an understood uniform code of conduct and speech—as if I must share the liberal politics of my peers in order to be treated with respect or considered a decent person. Their lecturing about diversity apparently does not extend to diversity of thought.
This is not as it should be. We need a genuine dialogue—now more than ever.
While division clearly exists between Republicans and Democrats serving within our government, many members of Congress recognize the importance of engaging with individuals across the aisle.
A member of congressional leadership addressed me and my fellow congressional interns this summer with what he said was the most important piece of advice he has received in all his years in government: Be passionate about what you’re passionate about. But, he said, it never serves you well to anger or alienate the other side. What does work is to treat your political opponents with respect and seek common ground with them at every opportunity.
The Claremont Colleges are full of passionate individuals. However, you will not persuade anyone by being the loudest to yell, or condemning others because their views do not align with yours. Instead, we should engage in civil discourse and allow respect and reason to prevail.
Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr