Election 2016: Conservative views considered unwelcome at Yale
Despite ongoing campus discussions about free speech, Yale remains deeply unwelcoming to students with conservative political beliefs, according to a News survey distributed earlier this month.
Nearly 75 percent of 2,054 respondents who completed the survey — representing views across the political spectrum — said they believe Yale does not provide a welcoming environment for conservative students to share their opinions on political issues. Among the 11.86 percent of respondents who described themselves as either “conservative” or “very conservative,” the numbers are even starker: Nearly 95 percent said the Yale community does not welcome their opinions. About two-thirds of respondents who described themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal” said Yale is not welcoming to conservative students.
“Anybody who supports Donald Trump or is a Republican is just hated,” said one respondent, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash from liberal students. “I just get the general vibe that Republicans aren’t respected for their beliefs as much as maybe the liberal people are.”
More than 60 percent of the 103 Yale students supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said they are “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” discussing their political beliefs at Yale.
The 2,054 respondents make up 37.58 percent of Yale’s undergraduate population, and results have not been adjusted for bias.
By contrast, more than 98 percent of respondents said Yale is welcoming to students with liberal beliefs. And among students who described themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal,” 85 percent said they are “comfortable” or “very comfortable” sharing their political views in campus discussions.
In an interview with the News, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said the results of the survey were lamentable but unsurprising. Holloway attributed conservative students’ discomfort at sharing their views partly to the pervasiveness of social media.
“So much of your generation’s world is managed through smart phones. There’s no margin anymore for saying something stupid,” Holloway said. “People have been saying dumb things forever, but when I was your age word of mouth would take a while. Now it’s instantaneous, now context is stripped away.”
Holloway added that Yale is one of many liberal arts universities where conservative views are highly unpopular, noting that in election years the political environment can become especially heated.
According to a 2015 article in the Harvard Crimson’s weekly magazine, many conservative students at Harvard College feel like their political opinions are neither respected nor appreciated. And in a recent article in The College Fix, a right-leaning online news outlet, a student at Columbia said that he feared he would be “physically assaulted” if he displayed conservative images or slogans on his clothing.
Still, Karl Notturno ’17, an outspoken Trump supporter, said he feels comfortable discussing his beliefs, even though he agrees that overall Yale is unwelcoming to conservative viewpoints.
“I have been very honest for most of my life. I’m not going to change myself to what others want me to be,” Notturno said. “I’m a little bit of an anomaly, but most Trump supporters I know don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”
Kevin Olteanu ’19, a member of the conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, said his views make him a “rebel in the crowd” who keeps conversations in his friend group interesting.
Scott Smith ’18 said that while he would be considered a liberal outside of Yale, he is more conservative than most students on campus. Smith said his views have grown more conservative over the course of his time at the University.
“I think on social issues I’ve become somewhat less liberal mainly because of how incredibly liberal Yale is,” Smith said. “I’m not a fan of going along with the majority on everything. I think I’ve been pushing back against all of that mainly because it’s just frustrating to see only one viewpoint being expressed, and expressed loudly.”
But not all conservative Yalies feel as comfortable outside of the majority. Grant Richardson ’19 said it sometimes feels “intimidating” to voice conservative opinions during discussion sections.
“I have been very honest for most of my life. I’m not going to change myself to what others want me to be. I’m a little bit of an anomaly, but most Trump supporters I know don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”
—Karl Notturno '17
Claire Williamson ’17 said it became harder to express conservative viewpoints during the controversies surrounding Calhoun College and the title “master” last fall. Students who did not hold the “popular vocal opinion” of renaming the college and changing the title were seen not only as wrong, she said, but as bad people.
“I would say it’s a frustrating Catch-22 to be a conservative-leaning moderate or conservative on campus,” Williamson said. “You’re sort of airing your own political views and trying to talk about them with the risk that someone disagrees with you to the point of assuming you’re an immoral person because of them. You either stay silent or you risk alienating some of your friends and groups around you.”
Still, political science lecturer Jim Sleeper ’69 said unwritten rules about when one should and should not share controversial opinions have existed for decades and are “woven into the fabric” of the University.
“Some of what we call self-censorship is necessary and good,” he said. “What you disagree about productively depends on certain things you agree not to disagree about. Civility requires self-restraint.”
Clarification, Oct. 27: Describing the statement he initially provided the News as unintentionally unclear, Dean Jonathan Holloway issued the following: “In no way did I intend to imply that the views of any student or faculty were stupid or should be dismissed. I meant to lament the fact that meaningful conversations were too often reduced or misconstrued in the shortened messages of social media, leading to a lack of understanding. I apologize if my words were misconstrued and taken to mean anything otherwise.”