Conservative at Yale
Is it possible to be “out” on the right?
Does Yale provide “a welcoming environment for conservative students to share their opinions on political issues”? In October, the Yale Daily News sent out a survey to ask undergraduates that question. The 75 percent of respondents who answered “no” can’t be considered representative. But 2,054 students participated, out of 5,453 undergrads in all. So that 75 percent is a signal of strong feeling among a large minority—most of them liberals, the News pointed out.
What is it like to be a conservative undergrad at Yale? I e-mailed the experts: officers and leaders of conservative student groups. Several replied with thoughtful and extensive comments, excerpted below. (Their opinions are personal and not intended to represent their political groups.)
Are conservative views unwelcome at Yale? “I very much agree that oftentimes conservative views, especially on social issues, are looked down upon,” wrote Ben Zollinger ’19. Declan Kunkel ’19 said, “Conservatives often have to have a ‘coming out’ moment with both their friends and acquaintances. . . . While the intent may not be to make conservatives feel unwelcome, sometimes being the only voice in a large crowd can be difficult.” But a Class of ’19 member (who asked that her name not be printed) wrote that a sense of unwelcome was infrequent. And Michael Fitzgerald ’19—who conceded that “there are groups of students who are closed off to opposing viewpoints whether those are liberal or conservative”—also wrote, “I believe that Yale has worked hard to create an environment of inclusion; I think that inclusion has reached all different viewpoints, including conservative views.”
Does the hostility, if any, come from students or faculty? Kunkel and Benjamin Rasmussen ’18 said students are the source. Kunkel’s professors “have been completely accepting . . . and respectful of conservative viewpoints, philosophical ideals, and conservative lifestyles.” But another commenter noted that students may not experience hostility from professors because they don’t bring up politics with professors. Joshua Altman ’17 wrote, “While many professors and students are intellectually charitable toward conservative views, many aren’t.”
How bad is it? One student called the conflicts “rather hostile”; two noted that social media is especially prone to anger and harshness. Kunkel said, “The hesitation that I (and most conservatives) have before answering [questions about politics] is simply that conservatives are held to be ‘bad people,’ and getting a label of that sort from your peers can be fairly devastating.” Rasmussen wrote: “I have lost friends over my political beliefs. Today, I know better than to delve deep into politics before first establishing a solid friendship.”
What to do? Altman, president of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, wrote, “If the Buckley Program can encourage more Yale students to attend a lecture with a speaker with whom they disagree, then it is a move in the right direction.” Zollinger said: “I try to be vocal about my beliefs and stand by them. . . . I want to . . . promote a better campus debate with representation from both sides of the aisle. Just sitting around saying you don’t feel welcome accomplishes nothing.” Fitzgerald: “We must be able to stand up for what we believe in, as, if we are not prepared to do that, there is no reason to stand for anything.”
Let’s give Fitzgerald the final word, in hopes that his optimism may be realistic, now or in the future: “At the end of the day, as long as you treat everybody else with respect and decency, your views are more than welcome at Yale.”