On campus, some say conservative voices are muffled

In a 2012 survey, 21 percent of freshman reported having far-right or conservative views.

by David Clarey

For some conservative students at the University of Minnesota, the presidential election has silenced their political speech.

Fear of being ostracized for vocalizing support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has created an uncomfortable situation for some conservative students, who say the University’s left-leaning campus has left little space for their opinions.

Communications and management senior Ashley Reut said she noticed differences in the political situation between the University and Southern Methodist University in Texas where she was formerly a student.

She considers herself a strong conservative and wasn’t surprised by the political differences between the two campuses. “Going to the U, you kind of feel like a minority in your opinion”.

Mason Nuss, president of Students for a Conservative Voice and editor-in-chief of The Minnesota Republic said the campus political atmosphere is “heated.”

“I think all conservative students go into a class … with the assumption that the majority of people here are liberal or very liberal and vehemently disagree with their opinion,” he said. “They think it’s a lot smarter to just not discuss [their opinions.]”

Nuss, a senior, said his group provides an outlet for students to come and talk about their views with other like-minded individuals. These meetings, he said, come as a welcome respite for him and the others who attend.

“The people agree with you, or at least aren’t going to crucify you for your opinions,” he said. “Frankly, it’s kind of relieving, it’s kind of nice.”

The discord on campus has led to some students becoming disenchanted when politics are brought up, said Ryan Russell, a journalism and English sophomore.

Expressing his views has, at times, led to conflict for Russell. Now, he suppresses his viewpoint during political discussions, he said, and made note about how he was hesistant to even talk to the Minnesota Daily. “Sometimes we feel it’s wrong to feel the way we do.”

About 21 percent of incoming freshman characterized their political views as far-right or conservative, according to a survey by the University’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program, which was last taken in 2012. Liberal and far-left students totaled about 37 percent.

Political communication theory shows that people feel more comfortable speaking out when they believe they’re in the majority, said Stacey Kanihan, associate professor in strategic communication.

In her classes, Kanihan said she’s seen uncertainty from both moderates and conservatives expressing their views.

“People who sense they are in the minority point of view do not feel comfortable speaking up, they don’t want to be ostracized,” she said.

Reluctance for more conservative-minded students to speak out may come from not wanting to be associated with two of the least popular candidates in American political history, she said.

“If you look back at the caucuses, Minnesota did not support Trump,” Kanihan said. “Conservative students who might just not parrot back the Trump phrases don’t want to be put in the category of students who did that.”

Nevertheless, she said that students who support Hillary Clinton have also been hesitant to speak up in class because of her unpopularity.

Reut said her unease about voicing her opinion in class isn’t just limited to fellow students’ views of her, but also the kind of environment that’s curated in the classroom.

“You do feel a little less likely to raise your hand and speak up in class,” Reut said. “[People] can label me what they want. They can think I’m closed-minded if they want to, but I have my opinions and my beliefs about different policies.”

Sophomore Peter Lewandowski said he is willing to voice his opinions in his classes, but he said that even though he faces a different environment as a Carlson School of Management student, it is still uncomfortable at times.

“It can definitely feel a little odd when everyone’s sharing their opinions and you’re the one person who has the complete opposite,” he said.

The University’s political orientation is in stark contrast with his rural Wisconsin roots, Lewandowski said, but it’s not a bad thing for him to experience differences in opinions, which he views as a learning experience.

“[The progressive political climate] almost made me stronger in some of my beliefs, having to confront them with other’s opinions,” he said.

In April, Young Americans for Liberty, a political student group on campus, hosted a free speech event. One girl at the event initially hesitated, but finally expressed that she supported Donald Trump’s run for the presidency, said mechanical engineering junior Cory Blunk, who is president of the group.

“I don’t necessarily agree with that statement, but it seemed to be a little cutting to me that a college student … felt that was something they had to do in secret,” Blunk said. “It’s saddening to me that people have to feel they are unsafe even holding an opinion that is unpopular.”

The divisive election, Blunk said, has exacerbated concerns with being associated with a candidate like Trump.

“I do think it’s difficult for conservative students, in general, on college campuses [that typically lean liberally.] But I think it is particularly bad because of the candidate the Republicans have chosen,” he said.

Trump’s views have even caused students like Ryan Russell to move away from the Republican Party.

“Because I see what [Trump] is saying, he kind of takes it from a very hateful standpoint,” he said. “That’s kind of changed some things for me. I realized how tough this could be for some people,” adding that he withdrew his registration from the party.

The unwelcoming atmosphere on campus is something that Russel said he hopes will change, but it isn’t going to distract him from his day-to-day life.

“It just seems like life is too short for me to try so hard to make everybody so upset and to get so upset about what other people are saying,” he said. “That why I’m not really politically involved on campus.”