When I decided to go to a liberal arts college in California, I did so knowing that my political views were not going to match those of the majority on campus. I didn’t mind this, because the benefits Claremont McKenna College had to offer appeared to outweigh this seemingly minor detail, and I had assumed that my views and I would be treated with at least some respect.
When I arrived on campus in the fall, I decided to join the Claremont Independent. Unlike the other newspapers on campus, the Independent is self-funded, beholden to no campus administrator or bureaucrat, and has made reporting the truth its primary responsibility on campus. Despite the many differences in political opinions among the Independent’s staff, every member was accepted, treated with respect, and encouraged to express any contrarian views. Supporting a certain political candidate or having a dissenting opinion was welcomed, not shamed. And naively, I hoped that my college, with a diverse student body holding a wide range of political views, would thrive on intellectual debate and the exchange of ideas just like the Claremont Independent staff.
But ultimately, my hopes were dashed. Instead of a lively, respectful battle of ideas, I have witnessed the utter mistreatment of those with minority opinions. In one incident, Jose Ruiz (PO ’16), the Managing Editor of the Independent, was ordered to leave a protest– which he attended in support of a close friend–simply because of his association with the Independent. A few months later, he was attacked on social media for being a “shady person of color.”
The term “shady person of color” (SPOC) gets thrown around a lot at the Claremont Colleges. When students of color do not share the prevailing liberal worldview, our peers use this phrase to dismiss our ideas and separate us from the group. Even students whose job is to help students of color feel comfortable on campus participate in this conservative shaming culture. Timothy Valdez (CMC ’19) who will become a student mentor for the Chicano Latino Student Affairs office (CLSA) this fall, called me a “SPOC” after commenting on a Facebook thread relating to a post in which a CMC student threatened to bully another CMC student out of school. My political views do not make me “shady,” and I will not be cowed by efforts to silence my voice as an independent person of color on this campus.
Silencing students with opposing views poisons the intellectual climate on campus for everyone, especially people of color. Calling those with dissenting views “shady” encourages groupthink by creating an expectation that all students who look the same have to think the same…or else. As a result, those who have not yet formed their own opinions or have dared to form their own are verbally beaten into submission, forced to side with the majority lest they be cast aside as an outsider or a traitor to their race. Race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation do not and should not necessitate a certain worldview, and it is an insult to the agency of every individual on this campus to say otherwise.
Mr. Valdez and his ilk suffer too when they silence their opposition on campus. Where there is no room for intelligent discussion on campus, their own views never have an opportunity to engage with and benefit from the marketplace of ideas. When we are not constantly challenged or questioned, there is no reason to modify our views, even if they are indefensible, weak, or self-contradictory.
I believe in personal freedom, small government, and a free market economy. However, I recognize that silencing and invalidating the opinion of a pro-government, fiscally liberal student by calling them “shady” or their calling their ideas “unsafe” would do nothing to advance my ideas or produce a healthy campus discourse. In reality, it is when I converse with someone with whom I disagree that I try my hardest to understand their reasoning and their beliefs, because it is in these moments that I experience the greatest growth and strengthen my arguments for my own beliefs.
I find it quite ironic that Mr. Valdez is going to be a mentor for CLSA next year, as this position is meant for students who will serve as role models for the Latino/a community. How will he be able to help incoming students find their place at the 5Cs if he vilifies anyone whose opinions contradict his own? Non-liberal students can also come from marginalized backgrounds and they need to feel comfortable with all the staff and mentors at CLSA. We are human beings, and one of the virtues we have is that of free will. We are free to choose how we behave, with whom we associate, and what we believe in. If people who share my ethnic background ostracize me because I don’t always agree with them, they are robbing themselves of an opportunity to benefit from a vibrant exchange of ideas and to appreciate the incredible diversity within the Latino/a community.