Political tolerance at Emerson leaves much to be desired

Bipartisanship is a beautiful thing. Here at Emerson, this collaboration of parties was showcased on a micro level when Emerson Democrats and Republicans teamed up to promote voter registration this past week. I am a Republican who is socially liberal, but since arriving at Emerson, I haven’t advertised the Republican aspect.

When discussing politics with my friends, I’m inevitably asked what party I associate myself with. Upon answering “Republican,” the conversation most often goes in three directions: either I am met with hostility, curiosity — like some sort of rare breed zoo — animal, or surprised joy on the off chance my counterpart is also a Republican.

With an eclectic atmosphere billowing across campus like the cigarette smoke that rises from the inlets and doorways of Boylston and Tremont, one might think Emerson students to be some of the most open-minded in Boston. Yet, with the upcoming election drawing near, it’s become clear to me that here at Emerson, most students are lean to the left when it comes to politics—and don’t always reserve respect for opposing viewpoints. 

On our campus, it is clear that conservatives do not have the vocal strength or audience of their liberal counterparts. One would be hard-pressed to find someone to discuss the GOP debates seriously with, without being met with sarcastic comments, ridicule, or interrogation.

The moment we arrived at Emerson, we were greeted with enthusiasm, balloons, and a few shimmies from eager orientation leaders. I remember stepping out of my car and believing that this was a school were everyone could find a niche and a true sense of acceptance. It was clear from day one that Emerson is a college that is accepting of sexual orientation, race, gender, and socio-economic background. It has been slightly disheartening to realize that, when it comes to politics, many students aren’t so open-minded.   

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It’s not difficult for Democrats to feel at home on our campus. The school has a sizable Emerson Democrats organization that gives a strong voice to those who choose to be involved in the political scene. These students should be hailed for their initiative and dedication to a party they truly believe in.

Sometimes, however, it appears that students with conservative opinions are not as well-received or respected by their peers and their professors. For instance, in one of my fall semester classes, students who took a Republican viewpoint were in the minority, often shot down by classmates of conflicting opinions. Meanwhile, in the same class, updates on the Occupy movement, a cause celebrated by liberals, were met with enthusiasm and interest.

I believe this ridicule arises from the closed-minded assumption that many conservative students can be intolerant and ignorant. However, this is a stereotype, just as it’s a stereotype that all Emerson students smoke, wear flannel, and tout themselves as hipsters. One needs to remember that all beliefs, especially political, exist on a spectrum. Not all conservatives or liberals align with the popular or extreme opinions of their parties.

Currently, Republicans at Emerson are attempting to have more of a unified presence through the creation of an official Emerson Republicans organization. This organization is currently using Facebook to garner support and alert its followers to meetings that they have held throughout the year. According to the information listed, at least 26 of the 31 members are freshmen, showing a strong political initiative from the newest crop of Emerson students.

I urge students to welcome this newly forming organization and be proud of Emerson’s political diversity. Just as students respect the many belief-centered groups at Emerson, from Hillel to the Secular Student Alliance, so should they respect the variety of political beliefs on campus. 

People have their opinions for deep, personal reasons. Don’t disrespect them by saying they’re wrong or refusing to hear them out. You might learn something new from their point of view that changes your perception or helps solidify existing beliefs.

So next time classmates raise their hands in class to say their piece, listen. Even if you don’t believe them, believe that what they have to say is important and worthwhile. After all, being an Emerson student means being part of a community where students are encouraged to have a voice and are granted the right to have that voice heard.