My four years here at Lehigh have been a time of transformation, exploration and deep reflection. I have been blessed with opportunities, experiences and relationships that I truly never could have imagined, and for that, I will always be thankful. As my time winds down here in Bethlehem, I find it rather important to highlight an issue that has been on my heart for some time now. As a progressive, I have always felt emboldened to be able to discuss political issues in the public arena around campus without fear of reprisal, but I honestly cannot say the same ideal has held true for my Republican and conservative counterparts.
Now, I know some may think I am exaggerating the prevalence of this issue, before writing this piece it even crossed my mind that I was, but the more I thought about it the clearer it became. I hail from the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, so naturally growing up I only had a few conservative friends to investigate ideas with. Luckily, Lehigh brought me into close contact with numerous considerate, well-meaning and extremely bright young conservative minds. My conservative friends and I have been able to rationally debate certain topics that have influenced American life, whether it be Donald Trump’s latest tweet or the recent gun control versus advocacy debate, while still being able to maintain a great relationship. These discussions have forced me to develop strong arguments in order to assert my viewpoints, while also giving me the opportunity to truly understand the perspectives of people with a different worldview. Ingratiating myself with those of differing ideologies has been the most rewarding escapade in my time here at Lehigh, and it has truly molded me into the person I am today.
However, I began to notice an alarming change in the exchange of ideas after the contentious 2016 presidential election. Many of my conservative friends began to tell me the fear they had of voicing their opinions in classes and around campus due to the fear of being labeled racist, homophobic, misogynistic or xenophobic. It even got to the point where I had a close friend of mine say that he sometimes has to contort his view on a topic to be more liberal to avoid subjugation by not only his fellow classmates but even his professors. I personally find this phenomenon to be extremely disheartening, and in complete juxtaposition to the true ideals of higher education. The opportunities I’ve had to learn more about the viewpoints of others has forced me to ponder why we all can’t take the time to listen to each other instead of subjecting ourselves to tribalism. I find it crucial to not allow the toxicity of our national political discourse to find its way into the heart of our campus.
We all came to Lehigh in order to expand our horizons and examine new ideas. However, if those on the more progressive side of the aisle continue to be bombastic towards the right, we will sever the ties that hold us together. Moreover, the opportunity to be truly educated will be squandered if one is not given a holistic representation of the various perspectives of the world in which we live. It is imperative that we all take the steps necessary to remedy the circumstances that have led to the degradation of the free exchange of ideas on campus. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to feel as if the ideas that I had were viewed as inferior, and the political atmosphere of the school I loved so much hindered my speech. Fortunately, this is not something I have experienced, but it pains me to know that other students have to deal with this on a daily basis. Though I may only have one month left at Lehigh, I hope I can still make a lasting impact on campus culture in this regard. Any imposition on free speech damages us all, not just those whose speech is under attack.
Class of 2018