Partisan tensions are running high during this election, and nowhere is this more evident than in the classroom.
In the 10 minutes we all take to settle in our seats, talk to professors and friends, and catch up on what’s what and who said what, the go-to topic is the latest Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump scandal, taking a national uproar and bringing it into our everyday educational discourse. For Whittier’s conservative-leaning students, who are arguably a political minority on this liberal-leaning campus, being open about their political alignment can turn into a moment wracked with anxiety and risk.
Revealing that you’re conservative or Republican in a Whittier classroom is almost comparable to the “coming out” experience. Trump supporting students have mentioned fear of judgment, implications of potential physical or verbal violence, and assumptions of negative stereotypes in response to such a declaration. “There are definitely times when students hold back on saying things during class because they are scared to say it,” said first-year Business major Jeff Rusin. “I’m not scared to be open about my political affiliation on campus, although it does cause conflicts.”
According to Rusin, when people see or hear that he is a Trump supporter, they immediately identify him as a racist. “The best thing I find to do is just ignore that type of situation,” Rusin said.
When asked how he politically identifies, Political Science major Senior Diego Velasquez responded carefully that he’s more comfortable with the label “conservative” than “Republican.” In a similar way, Velasquez said that as a Trump supporter, there is an immediate assumption that he is against women. However, he said that for him, this claim couldn’t be more wrong, emphasizing that he has two sisters.
One student who asked to remain anonymous mentioned that although they feel physically safe to be open about their political affiliation on campus, they still hold back because of a fear of “serious judgement” and a potential shift in the way they are perceived. “In the times that [Trump] has been brought up, this creates serious distraction [in the classroom], considering it is such a hot issue right now,” said the student. “There have been several occasions where I didn’t add to the discussion, due to the fact that people would be amazed that I could support Trump.”
When Velasquez discusses his political ideology in class, he says he speaks with hesitance. “It definitely does [feel like a risk]; you have to calculate whenever you’re going to speak up,” Velasquez said. “You have to be a little more careful, in the tone you say things and how you say things, if you’re from the minority political group in class.”
Ultimately, Velasquez believes that diversity of identity is what makes a true, liberal education. “I can see instances where it would hinder my education, where people who don’t want to push the envelope would just sit back and listen,” Velasquez said. “At that point, it doesn’t hurt their education, it hurts the class. If people just want to listen to one point and agree with that and nod their heads, they’re doing themselves a disservice, I think. That’s why whenever I do speak up, I do so to add to the discussion.”
What is it, then, that makes other students so apprehensive to communicate civilly with their Trump-supporting peers? Velasquez believes it is due to the image that Americans receive of the average Trump-supporter in the news and satirical media. “Those Trump supporters who can’t really make an argument beyond ‘Make America Great Again,’ or who rely on talking points they’ve heard on the news...I feel bad for those folks,” Velazquez said.
Velazquez hopes students realize is that discourse between those with different political identities can be productive. He believes there are differences in the Trump supporters you see on television and those you might meet on campus. “One thing that troubles me about this election is that people are so quick to point at people and call them stupid, based off the assumption that they can’t form an argument very well,” said Velazquez. “One thing I would hope is that people would be open to changing their perceptions of others solely based on how they speak, and focus their argument beyond the Make America Great Again rhetoric.”