Author: Jamie Wiggan
It will not come as news for any reader to hear that Chatham both identifies and is identified as a predominantly liberal school. From its founding in 1869 as one of the first colleges in the country to offer college education to women, right up to current developments at Eden Hall—the first campus in the world dedicated solely to the field of sustainability—Chatham’s 147 years have consistently modeled progress on social issues. Some may be tempted to make sweeping generalizations about the student body, squashing individuals into neat labels: liberal, progressive, modern.
But surely tolerance and diversity—issues at the heart of liberal social values—should be reflected in a conservative presence on campus? Granting that is the case, what have been their experiences on campus and what brought them here despite Chatham’s liberal reputation? With these questions in mind, the Communiqué decided to scour the campus for the conservative Chatham student. Perhaps their voices will challenge some readers, stretching assumptions and placing a human face behind less popular positions.
Sarah Bulloch, a first-year majoring in Biology, shared that for her, conservatism carries the idea of holding to “more traditional values.” Although she accepts that her values have been formed at least in part by her Catholic faith and her social upbringing, her confident articulation suggests she has made them her own. “I think even if I wasn’t a Catholic, I would still be a conservative,” she reflects.
When asked whether she feels that most students are open to honest dialogue with those they disagree with, Bulloch responded with conviction: “No…My true political views, I never would say to anyone here…they would get too defensive and it’s just not worth stating my own opinion.”
Molly Mcgill, a sophomore majoring in Interior Architecture, describes herself as walking a “fine line” where she is “neither 100 percent liberal nor 100 percent conservative.” McGill is somewhat more optimistic about other students’ openness to conservative opinions.
“I think the majority of Chatham students really want to see the other side, and be very well-rounded as individuals,” she said with assurance. However, when asked if she feels that liberal-leaning students sometimes fall short on extending inclusivity and tolerance towards those who are conservative, her flat “yes” preceded a momentary pause.
She then offered an evaluation that gives the impression she has spent a good deal of time reflecting on the matter. “It’s hard because you don’t want to call someone out, but you want them to grow as an individual,” she said. For McGill, this means learning from exposure to different viewpoints, as has been the case for herself. “Where I do agree with more conservative principles, Chatham has definitely pushed me in that fact.”
The conservative voices interviewed for this feature cannot easily be packaged into one neat category. Their differences are evidenced in their comments on current politics.
Josh Andrzejewski, a first-year Interior Architecture major, proudly owns his allegiance to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, claiming that “Trump’s gonna be a great influence for America if he wins,” citing low taxation, trade policies and protection of American jobs in his reasoning.
Bulloch on the other hand will cast her vote for Trump in a spirit of reluctance. “I hate them both,” she said of Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Remarkably, she would sooner vote for Bernie Sanders than Donald Trump, had he won the Democratic Party primary—a surprising choice for a self-identifying conservative. She sees Sanders as someone who “cares about everyone, and [isn’t] so harsh,” in contrast to Clinton who “cares about anyone who will vote for her,” and Trump, who “is a true capitalist and only cares about making money.”
Another way their voices reveal their individual expressions of conservatism is the extent to which they seek to interact with other students over their views.
Andrzejewski expressed disappointment with student responses to his Donald Trump-endorsing t-shirt, which he wore to campus one day. “No one wanted to talk it out,” he said. He said most reactions were angry, and that few people wanted to discuss it rationally. However, not all of Andrzejewski’s experience with interacting over politics has been negative; he recalls that some students acknowledged their differences, but respected him nevertheless for standing by what he believes in.
Bulloch’s approach to dialogue with other students differs somewhat from Andrzejewski’s. Her feeling is that whenever a conversation turns to politics it is likely to result in conflict. “I never really mention my views. . . and it seems to go well,” she said. She doesn’t oppose dialogue in principal, but comes mostly from her own experiences, at Chatham and elsewhere, sharing how ultimately she would “like for people to be more open minded and listen to other people’s political views.”
As a liberal arts college, Chatham is committed to broadening students’ perspectives through the educational and social interactions it meets them with. Although those interviewed refer to pushback and voice their individual encounters with inflexibility, all spoke with confidence on their ability to make friends and fit in despite having certain differences with other students.
In addition to a small number of difficult encounters, McGill referenced balanced interactions, which make her optimistic about “encouraging open dialogue” on campus. “That’s what I like about Chatham,” she said. “Everyone’s unique in their own individual ways…they really try to embrace them and support them in a community.”