What do you think of when you hear the word "conservative"? Do you envision an eighteen-year-old, female, future college student? Most people do not.
Whenever I tell people, "I am a conservative", the stereotype of a middle-aged, white man with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other fades before their eyes. Of course, such a statement is now considered an audacious one. As a result, I have experienced whispers of gossip, harsh glares, and immediate jeers after identifying as such.
But that does not make me frustrated or fearful for the next chapter of my life: college. These four years will truly be unlike anything I have ever known, and I could not be more ready for what is to come.
For my entire life, I have been educated in extremely conservative, Catholic-affiliated schools. While I have grown tremendously in my religious faith, I have been minimally exposed to those from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
Within my high school, the majority of my classmates were very similar to me. We were all from similar backgrounds with similar families sharing similar values, and therefore similar political stances. Yet, most of them were, as I like to say, "blindly Republican". Reiterating their parent's outbursts at the TV during last night's Fox News report, their remarks, made in various settings including but not limited to the classroom or the hallways, not only had barely any intellectual rationale but also were delivered without any independent research. These comments bred a sense of fear, insensitivity, and hatred amongst the minority of liberal students-the wrong message to showcase to anyone who opposes your political views.
There were few liberals who bravely spoke out against the consensus; however, they were often shut off from further discussion. Occasionally, their oppositions were heard. Yet, instead of creating a "learning experience" for both sides, proper debate etiquette was simply ignored.
My first introduction to such debate was in my junior year of high school when I traveled to the Holy Land on an interfaith pilgrimage alongside Jewish and Catholic teenagers. For the first time in my life, I had to defend not only my religious beliefs but also my political opinions to an audience which thought radically different from me. Instead of shutting down these discussions, I was intrigued by the different perspectives--the art of debate. I attempted to articulate my beliefs and my reasoning behind them, but like any seventeen-year-old, I did not know much.
Aside from my lack of facts or research, I did know a few things. I knew that would not be the last time my opinions would be questioned. I knew my conservative, Catholic "bubble" would burst once I arrived on a college campus. I knew the tables would certainly turn, and I knew my opinions would soon become the minority.
I was given a preview of this reality during a pre-orientation event last month. On the first night, a casual conversation between my assigned roommate and I gradually transformed into a full-on political discussion. We stayed up for a majority of the night discussing a multitude of social issues, ranging from abortion to immigration, continuously disagreeing with each other.
Although there was plenty of dissent visible throughout our entire discussion, we shared a common virtue: respect. We equally listened to the other, refraining from any interruption or distractions. We were both dedicated to the conversation, interested more in understanding the other rather than refreshing our social media accounts. Our political dialogue ended at an "agree to disagree" stalemate at approximately three o'clock in the morning. And like a majority of political discussions, we fell asleep that night without the slightest change of our pre-established opinions.
Once I returned home, I acknowledged that there were many of these types of discussions to come. But next time, it probably won't be one-on-one. Instead, a large group, maybe even the entire class might disagree with me, including the professor. But I am not scared to encounter disagreement; I am prepared to embrace it.
There will be plenty bumps along the road, I'm sure. No matter what, some people-on both sides- will always be quick to judge, to stereotype. to generalize. I guess being a conservative automatically comes with elementary-school bullies who will constantly frame you as a sexist (even though I'm a woman), racist, or homophobe without a glimpse of factual support. There will be many people I meet who will pretend like they don't know me once they find out my political opinions. They will threaten to unfollow due to the vast amount of political articles that I share, but I won't mind having one less friend on Facebook.
If you plan to belittle me because of my political alliance, you should know a few things. First, I will not cry if someone questions my beliefs. I do not need the therapeutic treatment within a "safe space" because I encountered a political discord amongst my fellow peers. Instead, I will form a civil exchange of ideas, a freedom beautifully protected under the first amendment. But I must warn you, my arguments are not drenched with emotions; they are enveloped with principle. And principle does not shed tears; it reveals the truth.
So fellow classmates, I ask you not to judge me for my political identity. Rather, I compel you to question my principles, so we can work together, through our differences, to discover the truth.