By Clay Thompson | Intern
Let me get this out of the way before moving on; yes, I hold conservative and Republican views. I, Clay Thompson, a Baylor student, lean to the right of the political aisle. Let the mixture of mental booing and cheering commence.
After reading those first two sentences, many of you have most likely already formed opinions about me, whether they be positive or negative, and I could say that I truly care about how someone views me as a person after only knowing about my political views, but honestly, that’d be a lie. I have a conservative Republican view politically, but I don’t place my value or identity as an individual in my political beliefs. That is something I think people on both sides of the political aisle are often wrong about. They often believe that a person’s moral and ethical beliefs are tied into their political identity, and for a lot of people, myself included, that isn’t true.
How does this play into the college experience? Speaking from personal experience, I can say that I am, or rather was, very afraid to be open about my political views on campus. It all started after I had been accepted into Baylor in November 2019. I started to connect with and follow other students who would be in my incoming class at Baylor. It was then that I started noticing the posts: Instagram stories, Snapchat stories and Tweet reposts, almost always about political topics. Most of the Baylor students I had connected with were posting left-leaning messages about how people who still supported Trump were bigots or how they were blocking those who didn’t repost this or who still followed that person.
One time I remember vividly is when I saw an Instagram story saying the person had gone through all their followers and unfollowed anyone who was following Donald Trump on Instagram. Their message said something along the lines of, “Looked through and unfollowed everyone on my Insta who still follows Trump. Not a political thing but more of a moral thing.” This took me completely by surprise.
I didn’t expect Baylor to be comprised of only Christians and conservatives, but it seemed like most people in my class were not only left-leaning but were actively rooting out and shutting out conservatives from their lives. I understand that does not describe everyone in my class, and I do not believe that those people were bad, but this mentality disturbed me. Because of this large volume of social intolerance, I quickly stopped posting my political views and took down all political posts I had up previously, fearing that these people who I wanted to befriend would shut me out, too. However, I slowly forgot about it as the impending excitement of going off to college took its hold on my mind.
Flash forward to August 2020, the pandemic had already been going on for several months, but Baylor was, thankfully, still having in-person classes. I attended my first week of school eagerly, ecstatic that I would be able to further my education towards a subject of my choosing. Yet, as the weeks went by, my enthusiasm faded slightly. I started to notice that some of my professors were occasionally injecting political opinions into their lectures or the class assignments themselves, even though none of my classes that semester had any direct connection to political science.
An example of this is one class that had assigned reading for us that semester. It was a book with a very politicized topic and heavily debated but, in my opinion, had nothing to do with the class’s subject. Our assignment was to answer discussion questions that could be seen by the entire class and then write a response essay to the book. In every discussion and even writing the paper itself, I would often have to censor myself or my responses, believing that if they seemed to be “too conservative” that I would be ostracized by many in the class or even by the professor (in a personal sense, not an academic one, of course). This caused a lot of stress and anxiety on my part, always having to tiptoe around certain ideas or topics I wanted to bring up in class, and often being afraid to participate in discussions fearing I might say something that would offend or alienate others.
Let me be clear about something else: I believe in the conservative idea that everyone should live their own lives, and that it is not my job, nor my interest, to condemn or judge the decision other people make regarding how they live their life. But when others are telling me how I need to live my life, and that choosing not to makes me “evil” or “dangerous,” it frightens me and forces me to make a crucial decision: either conform and be accepted and liked or be true to my beliefs and be accosted and isolated. That is how my first semester at Baylor felt.
After these experiences, I completely stopped trying to fight the tide of conformity and just pretended to be liberal. In conversations with other students, I would often lie about my views and beliefs, hoping to form some friendships. On assignments and in discussions, I would either avoid any type of political talk altogether or be directly in the middle, arguing for both sides so it would be impossible for others to find out what I truly believed. It was painful, and in the end, it didn’t pay off. After leaving for winter break, I realized that this behavior was hurting me and was not beneficial, so when I returned this semester, I decided to not hide my views anymore but speak up and speak out what I believe in.
Even now as I write this, I am afraid. Afraid that the friends I have already made will never speak to me again, afraid that those who read this story will view me unfavorably and afraid that people won’t understand my message and try to do better, to speak for what they believe in and to accept others who might not agree with them. Regarding the many political debates and issues around today, I am not advocating or condoning any words, behaviors or actions of actual objective hate or intolerance against any person, ethnicity, or belief system. My political views are mostly about economic political topics rather than moral or ethical debates, but it appears many on opposing sides see each other as enemies. Whether it’s conservatives believing liberals are ignorant and sensitive or liberals accusing conservatives of being intolerant or racist, political views are not usually what defines what kind of person someone is, and today, most people often lose sight of that.
Being afraid of expressing your political beliefs because you fear others might reject or shame you is understandable, but if all people with political beliefs separated how they see others and their belief systems, then that mindset can begin to improve relationships, not only between those in college but in America at large.