Growing up in Southern Florida, I lived in an affluent, predominantly white suburb and attended a traditional, conservative private school, where the word “liberal” carried a negative connotation and often invoked visceral reactions. Clearly, coming to Amherst was a culture change, but one I was — and still am — excited to experience.
One of my new classmates who grew up in Berkeley recently mentioned how Amherst is the least liberal place she has ever been “because there are Republicans.” I found this conversation so funny, and it led me to reflect on how unique my high school was. The school’s administration actively discouraged conversations about politics, instructing teachers to leave it out of the classroom at all times. History was literally being made and students were encouraged to be ignorant unless they were in a government class.
This repression of political discourse was especially prominent in the form of censorship of my high school’s newspaper. The administration had to review all the articles that were written, and often made the writers alter their articles in order to be published. They defended this infringement of free speech as protection of the school’s reputation, fearing that parents would interpret the censored articles as a representation of the entire school’s viewpoint. But that’s why the articles were in the opinion section, with a byline that clearly attributes the opinions in the article to the writer.
One of the many personal experiences I had with this system was when I wrote an opinion article about my experience being a liberal at my school. The process to get that published was headache-inducing. Among other edits and restrictions, I was not allowed to call then-candidate Trump a “bigot.” (In the opinion section!) The administration then suggested that the article be published with the caveat that a conservative student would write a response piece to be published alongside it, in essence undermining the effect of my article. After a negotiation process, the article was published. Censorship continued on other writers’ articles the next week and the week after that. I think this barring of thoughtful political discourse, instead of fostering unity, actually promoted polarization within the community, and being in the liberal minority posed its frustrations.
To shed some light on the liberal experience at my high school, when I was sitting at the club fair as co-president of the Young Democrats Club, some annoying twerps wrote “build the wall” on the sign-up sheet. At a (heavily regulated) Town Hall event between the Young Democrats, Teenage Republicans and Libertarian clubs, one student proudly proclaimed that he did not believe that climate change is caused by humans. Then, when the student-run broadcast network had an election special, as the poster-child for the Democrats, I proudly displayed all my Hillary gear for the piece while the girl next to me genuinely showed off her Trump cardboard cutout and infamous “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) hat. The most potent example was the day after the election when I legitimately wanted to mourn, and there were MAGA hats worn around school.
But despite all this, I have to be fair and say that I really loved high school. It was difficult at times, and it set me up for an interesting transition to Amherst, where I am now a member of the liberal majority on campus — and definitely not the most liberal on campus.
I still hold with me the conditioning from high school, like how I am unnecessarily hesitant to voice my political views or how surprising it is to me that I can write this article without being censored. It is such a breath of fresh air when a professor makes a negative reference to Trump or even when I can just have intelligent political discourse. My favorite part so far has been the multitude of speakers brought to campus. I have attended the Trump Point-Counterpoint series and talks given by people like Congressman Jim McGovern, Loretta Ross and so many more. My high school would never dare bring such political figures to campus, but this just promoted ignorance among the student body.
Of course, there are valid criticisms associated with having a political majority on any campus, as groupthink can run rampant. And yes, I can see how Amherst is susceptible to becoming a liberal bubble, but at this point in my first semester of college, the bubble is refreshing. It might seem naïve when I look back on this in a couple of years, but I feel as though my time in high school has earned me some respite from the conservative majority, at least for now. And I mean, like my friend said, there are some Republicans, and those Republicans do deserve to have their voices heard as the minority on campus.
We clearly all come from different backgrounds and political affiliations, but in the end, I am thankful to my high school for giving me perspective and making sure that I never take Amherst’s liberal environment for granted.