I have been interested in and intrigued by politics for as long as I can remember. Despite the fact that my house was never overly political, politics frequently came up and the conversations flowed. My political ideology flourished naturally and rather independently, as I was not socialized to become a Democrat. I grew up in a staunchly Roman Catholic home and my mother still calls herself a conservative (whatever that means), though she has abandoned the Republican Party due to their recent missteps.
I remember in the earlier weeks of my favorite class in high school, AP American Government, having to take a test which through your responses on a variety of issues ranging from economic policy to social and human rights issues, revealed your political ideology on a broad spectrum. I was surprised to find out that I was one of few students in the classroom in the blue state of Connecticut who had received the “super liberal” rating. There were more conservatives in the mix, though the vast majority of the class was rated as moderates or middle-of-the-roaders. Still, I chalked up those results to me being sure of where my political allegiances stood and assumed this was not the case for most of my classmates.
I had never questioned my political beliefs, as they had been cemented into the person I was up until the end of high school. Then I came to college and the kind of liberalism I was introduced to scared me.
Before my junior year, I took on the role of resident assistant. On one of my first training sessions for this job, all new RAs held a discussion on the subject of sexual harassment and misconduct, a vital discussion for young people and for any workplace.
It was the content of the discussion that puzzled me. I remember the instructor posing scenarios to the group and asking if these were examples of sexual harassment. One such example was telling a dirty joke. While voices quickly cried out that “yes, dirty jokes are sexual harassment”, I rose my hand and explained that I view telling a dirty joke in the workplace, while inappropriate, does not equate to sexual harassment if not done repeatedly and not targeted at any one individual specifically. The room erupted.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in a room where everyone’s eyes felt like daggers ready to pierce your skull, but this is kind of how that went down. One woman burst into tears, accused me on condoning rape and said my remarks made her feel unsafe on campus. Back then, I thought this was an isolated incident, until it happened again and again. Each time where I or others dared to offer an alternate perspective to contrast the groupthink on a controversial issue inside a classroom, we were shut down by peers and sometimes instructors. An instructor once actually told me my opinion was wrong. Another peer once told me I couldn’t comment on race issues because I was a white male. I am actually Latino, but that doesn’t really matter.
What’s concerned me most is this scary narrative that people’s opinions can be a direct attack on someone’s identity, as if disagreement on its face must be offensive or objectively racist. This trend of college students attempting to block conservative speakers from coming to their campus because their rhetoric is “offensive” is deeply disturbing (i.e. Lucian Wintrich and Ben Shapiro right here at UConn). And don’t even get me started on the whole microaggressions thing.
These sentiments scare me because I now see how the right can dismiss the left as “snowflakes” and elitists and believe the highly educated microcosms of our country, particularly in metropolitan areas are so out of touch with middle America. This scares me for the future of the Democratic party and the definition liberalism is taking on in our country. So much about the “revolution” and these incredible social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, while at times characterized by the right as divisive, can actually catalyze conversation and a mending of the fabric of our country which has long been rich in its diversity of thought, expression and culture. The beginning of all of that is attempting to understand those whom we don’t normally agree with, and I could have never expected my college education at ultra-lib UConn would have ironically opened my eyes to this.
Caio Goncalves is a contributor to The Daily Campus who is senior double major in political science and journalism. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.