It’s a pretty well-known fact that college campuses tend to lean toward the liberal end of the political spectrum, and Northwestern is no exception.
Based on political donations from employees, NU scored a 7.5 on a scale of campus liberalism from 0 to 10, according to research done by Crowdpac. Combined with prominent student-run divestment campaigns focusing on criminal justice and fossil fuels, both the faculty and the student body seem to lean left, but that doesn’t mean alternative perspectives don’t exist.
In 2014, The College Republican National Committee launched the #MyLiberalCampus campaign which offers a forum for conservatives who feel voiceless to share their experiences and thoughts at college. Using Twitter and their website, the Republican minority at different schools has been able to tell stories of professors and even the administration discriminating against them.
There are stories of silencing and criticizing of conservative voices from schools all across the nation. At Northwestern, many students who grew up in largely conservative communities said they feel that the Republican voice is not only downplayed on campus, but that they felt jolted by the transition to the school during their freshman year.
Julia Cohen, a SESP junior and the vice president of College Republicans, said she feels that sometimes the campus can demonize her group and is concerned that the events they hold could be shut down in the future.
“All the time I hear people talking about issues that I disagree with, and I can’t even argue with them because I’m terrified,” Cohen said. “Even in classes, I think my teachers would downgrade me [if I] elaborated on my ideas.”
With so much tension between the political right and left, NBN took a look at how students from conservative communities made their transitions into the “Bern-ing” fire of a liberal campus community.
When going about her college search, Communication freshman Jamie Kuhn said Chicago’s liberal reputation was one factor that drew her to Northwestern. Born in a suburb of Cincinnati, Kuhn was ready for not only a geographic change, but a political one.
“Everybody from where I’m from kind of jokes about getting out of conservative Ohio,” she said, adding that some of Republican Gov. John Kasich’s policies have elevated her concerns regarding the state government.
Speaking specifically about women’s reproductive rights, Kuhn said she blames officials at all levels for the bill that cut funding to women’s health organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which Kasich signed into law in February.
“Ohio is like, ‘Let’s shut down every Planned Parenthood; we hate women!’ and I think Gov. Kasich plays a part in that but that’s also a lot [of the] local government,” Kuhn said.
However, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her fair share of criticism directed specifically toward the 2016 presidential hopeful. Kuhn said she believes Kasich’s political ambitions have affected his ideology.
“I definitely feel like as Gov. Kasich has been running for president, he has become more conservative,” Kuhn said. “I’m glad to kind of be away from that, not that I’m scared of the political climate of Ohio, but it definitely feels calmer and safer here.”
Gender fluidity and sexuality
For Elliot Kronsberg and Megan Ballew, both Communication freshmen from South Carolina, the transition to Northwestern was accompanied by somewhat of a culture shock, especially when talking about identity and sexuality.
“There were certain issues that seemed nonexistent in South Carolina that popped up a lot here,” Kronsberg said. “[Before coming to Northwestern], I had like no concept of gender flux or gender fluidity.”
“I just wasn’t as exposed as much as other people here to the different genders and sexualities,” Ballew said. She said she credits this to her more conservative background, but that the willingness to talk about such concepts on campus has already made her more knowledgeable.
During her time in high school, Ballew said, conversations regarding sexuality were not always encouraged. Although the school’s choir director was gay, it was something that wasn’t really discussed.
“Apparently a kid in the grade below me ... he came out in his senior speech,” Ballew said. “One of my friends told me that the administration ... tried to stop him from giving that speech saying that he was coming out. He did it anyway.”
Open minds, open hearts
Aside from differences in general political ideology, Kronsberg said that attitudes toward the political system vary between Northwestern and South Carolina.
At Northwestern, Kronsberg said, people tend to be less cynical about politics, perhaps due to the fact it’s a college campus. He said he sees more passion for change, especially when it’s a cause students are willing to fight for.
“In the South, ... it’s like a system that has sort of worked for a while,” Kronsberg said. For example, South Carolina only recently passed a bill taking down Confederate flags from their state capitol, an image historically associated with slavery and racism.
“I was surprised that it didn’t happen sooner because people had been complaining about it for awhile,” Kronsberg said. “There’s been a negative connotation about it for 40 years almost.”
At Northwestern, he said, the status quo isn’t always accepted.
“People are a lot more activists and like standing up for their ideals,” Kronsberg said.
Cohen says Northwestern’s openness hasn’t translated to the conservative portion of the campus.
“It’s harder here [to be conservative] than at other schools because people like to be politically engaged,” she said. “But so much of that is about shutting down free speech.”
Communication freshman Cammy Harris said she didn’t expect Northwestern to be a very big transition despite coming from a very conservative school and area because much of her college search was centered around finding “the most extreme liberal environment.”
However, the political correctness of Northwestern’s campus came as a surprise, and something she didn’t think she would see in an educational setting.
“I feel like I’m watching what I say a lot of the time,” Harris said. “I’m not offering moral condemnation in one way or another on that, but that’s something that I definitely noticed as a difference for my educational experience. Particularly as I was the one in my high school that always reinforced political correctness and it’s weird to be on the other side of that.”
Ballew was surprised at the culture of “correctness” at Northwestern, too, and attributes it somewhat to the lack of overt political discourse on campus.
She said she feels like even if the Northwestern community was open to hearing conservative opinions, the opportunity isn’t always there.
“There aren’t [conservatives] that are grouped together enough here to have that big of a voice,” Ballew said. “So even if they have opinions, they get trampled when they try to offer them or they just say ‘I’m not even going to try, because I’m going to get ridiculed for being a conservative.'”
The campus climate limits conservative participation as a whole and does so to a much greater extent to Trump supporters. However, Harris’ hometown, Sarasota, Florida, has a fair amount of people who want to “Make America Great Again.”
Harris said her school has become more conservative since she graduated last spring, leading her to question the quality of education the kids are receiving.
She also admits that it has affected, if unfairly so, her experience as a liberal and her bias toward conservatism.
“My school gives me a bad rap for conservatives because I associate the bad downturn in my school with Trump supporters.”
She also couldn’t help but mention under her breath that she thinks Trump fans are idiots.
Luckily, Cohen doesn’t think Harris would have this problem at Northwestern; nobody in College Republicans is a Trump supporter, and she says she hasn’t met any on campus.
“That wouldn’t happen here …”
If there’s one thing that Northwestern can guarantee, it’s that the people here will always enjoy a good political joke, especially when it’s at the expense of the Republican party. However, when Weinberg freshman Amanda Rosner dressed up as Sarah Palin for Halloween in sixth grade, her Georgia neighbors didn’t really see the humor.
“A lot of people were really flattered that I decided to dress as Sarah Palin because they thought that she was like my idol or something,” Rosner said. “In my eyes, it was the scariest costume I could think of."
Things got even more awkward throughout Halloween night.
“I wound up trick-or-treating at my state representatives house … [and] we wound up taking photos posed like McCain and Palin,” Rosner said.
Maybe with its large endowment, Northwestern can afford access to those top secret photos. With such a liberal student body, Rosner said, they might even get a few laughs.
Editor's note: a previous version of this story said College Republican events have been shut down. This is inaccurate. Rather, Julia Cohen said she is concerned that they may be shut down in the future. NBN regrets this error.