Some Conservative Girls Feel ‘Shut Down’ on Liberal College Campuses

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WOMENSENEWS)– During her freshman year at University of North Texas, Heather Reed was eating lunch with her friends, when the topic of abortion came up. Everyone at the table agreed it should be a woman’s right to choose. Everyone except Reed.

“All these people just looked at me and they just lost it,” says Reed, who is majoring in photojournalism and political science and now starting her junior year. “I’m used to having a conversation [but] there was no concession on either side, and it was just this rude awakening where I realized that the people around me weren’t afraid to shut me down.”

Nora Steuart knows the feeling.

The sophomore at the University of Maryland, who spoke recently to Teen Voices, says she often avoids participating in discussions in her government and politics classes–her major–for fear that the conversation will turn into “the whole class versus me.”

Instead she doesn’t say anything. “Because I witness a few other people that’ll say something that goes against what everybody says and they get shut down. So I don’t want that to be me.”

Conservative Millennials are in the minority. Only about 15 percent are conservative (either mostly or consistently conservative) according to a 2014  Pew Research Center study.  Meanwhile, 41 percent are either mostly liberal or consistently liberal in their views. About half affiliate with the Democratic Party while only 34 percent consider themselves Republican or lean towards the Republican Party.

Both Reed and Steuart say that, fortunately, they have found friends with whom they can disagree.

“My friends are really respectful of it. They kind of just know like, ‘there’s the conservative,’” Reed says.

Some of her classmates tell her she’s setting women back 20 years, when she says her dream job is to be a mother, but she disagrees.

“The women’s suffrage movement was great. I think it needed to happen. I think we all should vote,” Reed says. While she supports workplace equality she thinks it is disrespectful to tell girls it’s bad if motherhood is the only thing they aspire to.

Taylor Webb, a University of Kansas sophomore, also feels like she is expected to take the liberal side on social issues.

“I feel like I’m not ‘liberal enough’ in those issues, too,” the music education major said.

Young conservatives on college campuses say the criticism doesn’t just come from other students. It also comes from adults.

Webb took an English class last semester with a “very, very liberal” professor, who would constantly express his opinion on current events.

“I felt like [he] threw his views in our face a little bit just because he did it every day,” Webb says. “It’s very clear that if you don’t feel the way he does, you might as well just not say [anything].”

Kristi Henderson is director of communications for Kansas University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We do encourage open discussion among faculty and students, however, we also expect that such conversations will be respectful,” she says in an email. “If students have concerns about how a professor conducts class discussion, they are encouraged to talk with their professor, a department chair or an advisor.”

Putting the onus on students can be tricky, says Ashley Thorne, executive director of National Association of Scholars, a membership organization that publishes a journal, Academic Questions.

“I see this as very destructive for what higher education should be,” says Thorne, who spoke recently by phone. “You should go to college to not only challenge yourself and your ideas, but [to] seek the truth and the only way…is by hearing a full range of arguments on different sides.”

  • westomoon

    I have an older person’s perspective to contribute to this question. My brother’s six children were all raised in an intensely “conservative” atmosphere, and that has made it hard to have normal conversations with them.

    Thanks to the Right-Wing Noise Machine, new topics are constantly being politicized, so that on what was a neutral topic last Tuesday, my intelligent nieces and nephews on this Monday are spouting strange memes with passionate certainty. And because these memes are often illogical. it makes them very uncomfortable to discuss them — and they avoid the discomfort by making it clear they feel “attacked” by the introduction of facts or logic. We love them, so we don’t want them to feel attacked, but we also don’t want them looking like idiots because Rush Limbaugh has had a new gas attack.

    One nephew lost his chance at admission to a unique undergraduate program he desperately wanted when the University interviewed him and hit one of those conservative trip wires. They didn’t react to his face, so he had no idea til he was proudly telling us about it afterward. We all assumed he was being hilariously ironic, till we discovered he’d been earnestly explaining a meme — I think it was that the government should force poor people to be married, because single-parent families are more prone to be poor — for most of his interview.

    It s also true that many conservatives are accustomed to getting together and repeating these memes to each other — they seem to take comfort in the practice. It’s a jolt for them when they encounter a situation where they don’t get the response they’re accustomed to. If the young women in this story are like my nieces, they have probably had very few substantive conversations with non-conservatives prior to going off to college — and being expected to defend their positions, which are not really their own but conservative memes, could very well feel like being attacked or shut down to them.

    Hearing a professor express a “liberal opinion” is probably uncomfortable because these young women have been taught that “liberal” means “wrong,” by definition. And, as I know from trying to converse with my brother’s family, what was just a neutral opinion last week will get branded “liberal” this week because the right wing has minted a new set of polarizing memes. I think that what constitute “liberal opinions” might surprise those of us outside the conservative bubble — while they are outraging people within the bubble.

  • Chelsea

    Here is the link to the study referenced above if anyone is interested http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/09/25/the-gops-millennial-problem-runs-deep/

  • homegirl

    Ms. Reed has every political, legal, social and moral right to make her own choices. She does not have the right to make choices for others. By law she has the “choice” to terminate a pregnancy, or not. She does not have the right to deny others the choice she enjoys.