Rierson on the Right
The other day I spoke with a person who said that I was brainwashed because I attended a liberal school. When I replied that I had actually served as chairman of the College Republicans at UNC and that couldn’t be further from the truth, I was told that I must have been brainwashed unknowingly. I think that person had a legitimate political concern, but was severely misguided.
As I approach the end of my undergraduate career, I have taken time to reflect on the choices I made in college. One thing I am proud of is that I wasn’t afraid to stand up for what I believed, and I hope that every student can say the same.
Being an open conservative on a liberal college campus is not easy. It can certainly narrow your choice of friends and make it difficult to get through class. I still think though, that plenty of people will respect you if your views are well-informed and you treat others with respect too. Through my political science and public relations classes, I have made a host of friends who understand I have strong political opinions, but they do too and respect me just the same.
Speaking up in class or standing in a courtyard can be a scary task. As a college student, you typically want to go along to get along and not stick out from the crowd in a way that could be deemed awkward or embarrassing. But sometimes sticking out for a cause can be very important.
I have handed out fliers for “controversial” speakers, participated in a congressional campaign announcement photoshoot, and sat at a table festooned with Republican Party memorabilia in the middle of my busy campus. I probably looked a little weird while doing those activities, but my friends and I were able to add to our university’s marketplace of ideas and show that it was safe for conservative college students to express themselves.
It was not a rare occurrence for me to disagree with a prevailing liberal opinion in classroom discussions and then have students come up to me after class and say that they thought the same as me and were happy that I spoke. Nor was it uncommon to help host an event and find that hundreds of students were interested in learning about conservatism because they never heard about it from their professors.
Two rules that I always kept when working as an activist in college were to put an even greater emphasis on my schoolwork, and engage those who disagreed with me in an intelligent and respectful manner. There are numerous reasons for those rules, but they include the fact that I went to college to earn a degree and get a job. Activism is an important part of citizenship, but unrestrained political behavior can easily doom a young person before they start their career.
Grassroots political involvement can be time-consuming and uncomfortable, but it plays an important role in a democracy. College is a great time in a person’s life to learn and debate new ideas, and support causes one believes in, which makes it a great season for activism. I am proud of the time I spent forwarding the conservative movement at UNC, and hope that more students will fight for whatever they believe in as well.