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Living in a Liberal Bubble: Students Hesitate to Express Unpopular Beliefs

Sadie Schwartz and Jude Herwitz

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“It’s a bigger deal to come out as a Republican than it is to come out as gay, and both of these things are simply aspects of a person’s identity,” Isabel Mignone (10) said about expressing her political beliefs at the school.
“To be honest, the thought of having to say, ‘Yeah, I’m a Republican’ in the newspaper is kind of terrifying because a lot of my friends are going to say, ‘What’s wrong with you?” Mignone said.
In an anonymous survey, out of the 287 students who responded, 32% of students reported feeling uncomfortable expressing their political beliefs to their peers and teachers.
Student responses revealed a wide the diversity of beliefs along the political spectrum, as students identified as republican, democratic, centrist, communist, independent, libertarian, and various other combinations of beliefs.
“People feel that they will be persecuted and accused of having a lesser moral compass for having these views. It’s not just that you’re wrong on this issue, but because you hold these views it makes you a bad person,” Oliver Chonoles (12), who holds conservative views, said.
Brody McGuinn (11), a centrist, has found himself hesitant to voice his political opinions out of the fear for how they might be perceived, he said.
“This fear has started ever since the political election, since I did support Trump as the presidential candidate,” McGuinn said. “I didn’t really feel that I should voice my opinion for worry of how teachers and fellow students would react to those opinions.”
Although he feels that the school community has been pretty accepting of what he believes in, Nyle Hutchinson (11) recounted his feelings after Donald Trump, whom he supported, won the 2016 Presidential Election.
“While I didn’t agree with all of Trump’s policies, he was the candidate I wanted to win,” he said. “When President Trump was elected, I felt ashamed and silenced when everyone at the assembly was saying how it was one of the worst moments in history.”
After the 2016 presidential election, Jake Shapiro (10) felt that a lot of faculty expressed very negative opinions of President Trump, and that made students with contrary viewpoints less inclined to participate in discussion, he said.
“After the election, I know someone who defended Trump and his view on certain topics. Someone responded, saying that you can’t really say that because you’re being racist or misogynistic,” Chidi Nwankpa (12) said. “They weren’t directly saying anything racist or misogynistic but the defense of Trump triggered that reaction.”
Even when not speaking about Trump, many people articulated anxiety voicing political opinions that differed from the majority’s.
When she was younger, Natalie Raum (12) felt uncomfortable speaking about her contrarian beliefs, especially since they were different from the majority, she said.
Josh Abbott (12), who identifies as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, said that oftentimes he chooses not to speak about his views to avoid starting conflicts.
“I know that if I talk about what I believe in to certain people, I’ll just engage in an argument,” he said. “Why should I just start trouble?”
Jack Blackman (10) characterized political discourse at the school as, at times, an “us against them mentality,” with only one appropriate view rather than a range of beliefs.
“It’s like there’s supposed to be one opinion more or less that’s the acceptable one, and the bad guys are the others, and they’re kind of villainized,” he said. “It’s not that they’re saying you can’t have another view, but nothing else is really promoted as much.”
Unlike other people with similar beliefs, Chonoles enjoys the dialogue with people but he is forced to stay on top of his sources since his beliefs are outside of the majority, he said.
However, Chonoles has experienced negative initial reactions when discussing his political views in a classroom setting.
“Last year, I argued that the gender wage gap doesn’t exist. At first, members of the class looked alarmed, but the teacher eventually settled down the class and it turned into a really interesting discussion,” he said.
“One time, I said something negative about Hillary and people went nuts. They came up to me and asked questions about where I stand,” Schuyler Rabbin-Birnbaum (11), who identifies as a centrist, said. “It’s unfair that people were so judgmental about it.”
Alex Crotty (11) possesses some views that may be considered conservative due to personal connection to the issues. She is pro-keystone pipeline because her family comes from Alberta, so she knows that they are dependent on the oil industry.
“We have to take into account that so many people’s lives depend on industries that we may see as harmful and that just because everyone’s lives are so interconnected with politics, what’s very personal to me might be very impersonal to someone else and vise versa,” Crotty said.
Amman Kejela (10) described what he sees as a component of the seeming homogeneity of the school’s political views.
“I think something that contributes to this outward uniformity of thought is a sort of strongman defense in which some completely mischaracterize peoples’ beliefs and ethics and basically attack them,” Kejela said.
Students who identify on the far left side of the political spectrum can also feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions in class. Josh Benson (11), a self-described socialist, has been in situations where he received very negative backlash from his classmates.
“It was very disheartening because it was on an issue that I and other students participating had very similar beliefs on but it eventually developed into a shouting match,” he said. “There are certain opinions that I, as a Horace Mann student, would feel uncomfortable sharing because it could hurt how that teacher sees me.”
Jamie Berg (11), who also identifies as a socialist, said that the biggest obstacle he has encountered is that people don’t know if he is serious or joking about his political beliefs. “It’s radical enough that it can come off as a joke,” he said.
“You get a lot of mainstream liberalism at Horace Mann but not a lot of more radical left-ism. There isn’t a lot of diversity within the left-alluding community,” Berg said. “So it’s a bubble in that way too.”
While some students feel the need to censor their political beliefs in the classroom, many teachers attempt to mediate political discourse.
“There are moments where there are some ideologies or viewpoints that we, based on our core values as a school would go, ‘This is not appropriate, people do not feel safe,’ and I’m sure we could have a conversation about what those are,” John Gentile, a co-director of the Office for Identity, Culture and Institutional Equity, said.

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Living in a Liberal Bubble: Students Hesitate to Express Unpopular Beliefs