In light of the recent protests at UC Berkeley, in which students were threatening riots to try to stop conservative political leader Ann Coulter from speaking, the issues of freedom of speech and acceptance of differing perspectives have been thrust into the national spotlight.
In a Bark survey only 14 percent of students self-reported supporting Donald Trump in the recent election and 37 percent of students self-reported feeling safe to voice their political views even though they may be in the minority.
With a majority being more liberal-minded in Marin, the minority opinion can sometimes feel silenced. Although many liberal students strive to be accepting, according to senior Matt Barham, the conservative minority at Redwood sometimes feels marginalized.
“Redwood tries to be, from what I’ve observed, as tolerant as possible, but that usually only applies to people who align with their point of view,” Barham said.
Senior Austin Torney, who has a few conservative leaning beliefs, also experienced a stigma with his political ideas.
“There’s a lot of stigma just around being a little more conservative than the average person,” Torney said. “In government class a lot of people just assume that I’m racist or homophobic.”
Science teacher Skip Lovelady said that he would only go on record to say that intolerance for the conservative community is definitely a problem at Redwood.
While the liberal majority makes some conservatives feel silenced, senior Kristen Varganova, a liberal attending Syracuse University next year, has conservative friends that feel more combative.
“I think [conservative students] feel more provoked if anything to express their opinion but I don’t think they feel silenced,” Varganova said. “I have a couple friends who are Republican and the only issues that I have with them is topics such as reproductive rights or women’s rights because I don’t agree with them on everything. I’m still friends with them. We are still polite [and] I actually like to hear their side of the whole political spectrum because I get to learn new things and see their opinion,” Varganova said.
Barham likes igniting debate in order to share his perspective with his liberal peers.
“I do wear my Trump hat sometimes. I love it when people challenge me because it’s fun to have a little dialogue with them, even if they tear off my head,” Barham said.
As a liberal, junior Jake Hanssen, Lieutenant Governor of Junior State of America (JSA), a political debate organization that acts much like a student government, has also noticed the difficulty conservatives have at Redwood.
“It’s hard to be conservative here, but that’s just one of the challenges that you have face in regards to the area that we’re living in. But it can also strengthen your resolve in some ways,” Hanssen said.
Even though people can form stronger opinions by living in a place like Marin where everyone is a majority liberal, Barham feels that conservatives still face judgement and hostility in their daily lives.
Barham explained how people would treat him one way before finding out his political views, and treat him a different, more hostile way after he shared his views. According to Barham, people should be respected and should have a right to voice their opinions on either side of the political spectrum.
“We just saw with the alt-right conservative speaker who wanted to speak at Berkeley. I think everybody should be allowed to say what they want and whether it applies to their political views or their sexual orientation they should still be allowed to say that and you shouldn’t have the right to say that they’re not allowed to say that,” Barham said.
As students go to college, many find that politics plays a role in relationships there as well. Senior Isabella Bacino, a student with a few Republican ideals, said that she had experienced rooming with somebody of opposing views during a leadership conference she attended in Washington DC. She said that although the experience was not what she was used to, she learned a lot from it.
“When I went to American University for the leadership conference, I had a roommate who was super conservative, all for guns [and] against abortions, and I was shocked to hear that because she seemed pretty liberal at first. We got along well so I guess that made me think that I can get along with conservatives and have good civil debates with them,” Bacino said.
Despite this experience, Bacino still wanted to have roommates of the same political standpoint at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next year.
“I’m rooming with these five girls and they all lean pretty liberal. I think because of the current situation in America and the president that we have, considering I’m very politically active, I could spark a debate and I wouldn’t want any fights,” Bacino said.
According to conservative senior Holden Bailey, even though there is tension nationwide between both parties, especially since the recent election, Redwood can fix its problem by removing the stigma associated with the word “conservative.”
“Conservative becomes sort of a blanketed statement at Redwood for many people. If you say you’re conservative people sometimes think that you automatically don’t like X or Y. I feel like if we could better differentiate the types of conservatism and teach people that not all conservatives are racist rednecks or whatever that would help,” Bailey said.
Torney also thinks that this stigma has to be removed through dialogue between the different political parties.
“I think it just comes down to the fact that people need to have discussions with each other,” Torney said. “I think the best way to resolve this issue is to realize that on a lot of matters a lot of us have very similar ideas and it’s just a little different here and there. It’s become a battle of us versus them, and I think we just need to have understanding discussions.”