For as long as I can remember, politics has been a big part of my life — I grew up in New York City, was raised in a very left-leaning family and went to two very progressive schools. Everyone I knew was liberal, and I was happy in my echo chamber and thought I would never want to escape it.
When I got to Lehigh, everything changed.
When I was touring colleges, my mother and I would always ask the tour guide “What’s the political culture like here?” If the tour guide said the school was generally more liberal, we would nod in satisfaction. If they said it was more conservative, the school was off the list.
On our Lehigh tour, we asked the same question, but got an answer we hadn’t before. The tour guide said ,politically, the school was split right down the middle. It wasn’t either/or here at Lehigh, she said.
And let me say, this put my mother and me into a state of frenzy — the answer to this question was so key to our thinking, we didn’t quite know what to make of the idea of a school being right down the middle.
At the time I had toured Lehigh, I was pretty sure I wanted to apply early decision to a very different university — one where I knew a lot of the students came from New York City schools and therefore saw the world the same way I did.
The day we visited Lehigh our car broke down and we were stuck on campus for seven hours. This curse turned into a blessing in disguise, as I came to see that Lehigh might actually be a better fit for me.
It made me realize I had grown almost too comfortable with the culture I grew up in, that I resented the fact that everyone was the same and no one ever really disagreed with each other.
I started to think maybe Lehigh was the exact change that I needed.
At the end of those seven hours, as I watched the tow-truck haul away our car, I decided I was going to apply early to Lehigh.
To this day, I am so grateful I made that decision, although I definitely doubted it a couple of times along the way.
Coming from a Brooklyn high school where being politically correct was the only socially acceptable way to be, I wasn’t fully prepared for a social setting that is oftentimes the opposite.
I remember hearing students saying derogatory terms left and right during my first week at Lehigh. I was appalled, not because I was personally offended, but because not caring about being politically correct was a social norm.
At first I felt extremely out of place and considered transferring. I felt weirdly suffocated by a social scene that was objectively less constricting than the one I grew up in.
But, luckily enough, I decided to stick it out. Little did I know I would grow to be grateful for being a part of a community where I don’t agree with everyone.
Coming to Lehigh has given me a cultural experience I could never have anticipated.
I met a lot of new, great people who I didn’t agree with at all politically, but still got along with very well. It made me aware of how close-minded I was to other beliefs and ideologies — I was so quick to judge people’s morals based on their politics without taking the time to listen to their points of view, and understand how their upbringings played large roles in what they believe, just as it did in mine.
I was able to learn from my peers that their lack of political correctness was not because they were trying to hurt people’s feelings or because they believed the things they were saying, but because being politically correct was never required of them as it was for me.
Now in my second year here, double-majoring in political science and journalism, politics is still as important to me as it always was, but now I enjoy hearing my peers’ differences of opinion and have come to see that their perspectives can be just as valid as mine.
I thought being in an environment where my views on politics aren’t echoed by everyone would make me feel silenced and unmotivated to have political conversations, but instead it has pushed me to have conversations with people I don’t agree with, and in turn, find what I truly believe in. After some time, I no longer felt like I had to follow in others’ footsteps to fit in.
I now know what I truly stand for and am happy knowing not everyone feels the exact same way. And for that, I am grateful.