My whole life, I have always strived to be unapologetically me. I have always resisted changing myself for others to fit in and have never really felt like I needed to. For example, growing up, I cared a lot about politics and current events. I would always try to discuss this with my classmates, who didn’t care to listen and would have much rather talked about something else, in middle school and high school. But I never let my peers’ lack of interest halt my interest, and I continued to learn about politics and keep up with the news.

College has brought to me the first situation where I feel like changing myself isn’t a necessity but a survival strategy. Finally, my peers are interested in discussing politics with me, but most of them do not want to hear what I have to say. 

I am not a radical conservative by any means. A lot of my political beliefs are very pragmatic, and if you have read any of my past articles, you already know this. I am mostly moderate politically, yet I have had situations where people do not want to continue their friendship or even acquaintanceship with me because of our political differences. I hesitate to tell people that I am involved in certain clubs because they are politically affiliated. Even just claiming my conservative beliefs and experience right now feels wrong, and it may seem shocking to read.

A lot of conservatives on college campuses feel like they are not free to share what they believe or engage in civil discourse with liberals on campus. 73% of Republican students say that they have hidden their politics over fear about grades. This isn’t just in the classroom or in essays. This is reflected in social situations, too.

I’ve heard countlessly from conservatives around campus: “I don’t like to talk about my political beliefs” or “Don’t worry about it” when asked their political affiliation. When I speak freely about my political beliefs, people are often shocked that I share so openly, as we are all aware of the shaming or shunning that so often comes from the left toward conservative political beliefs on college campuses. 

Oftentimes, I don’t try to talk about my political beliefs, but when I occasionally tell people that I don’t know very well or people I converse with in passing, I always get a comment around the lines of “I’m surprised you’re telling me this,” or they’ll instinctively look around to see if anyone around has overheard. 

This reaction is not unwarranted and will not come as a surprise to anyone reading this who is currently in college. If you are a conservative or identify as a Republican, you especially understand what I am talking about. There is an attitude among many college students that if you are conservative, you are a bad person and deserve to be shut down. This lack of conversation is a product, and also a cause, of a toxic political environment. 

All that said, of course, it is necessary to mention and thank people on the left who are accepting and friendly toward people on the right. Conservatives are truly grateful for any time we get the chance to engage in peaceful and respectful civil discourse. Understanding that both sides want to see this country and this world become a better place – we just have different ways we believe we should go about it – is step one to actually finding that solution.

Disengaging in civil discourse is never a good thing. A lack of discussion will lead to further toxicity, where any time people hear something opposite of what they believe and actually start to become convinced by the other side, they throw around conversation-ending insults that work to discredit the other person’s point of view entirely. If we never give the other side a chance, we will never perfect our own arguments by considering the thoughts of the other side or never possibly see our minds being changed, as discussion leads to a bipartisan solution. 

I am not asking for sympathy. You will be hard-pressed to find any Republican that does. All I am asking for is respect as a person and as a college student who is here to learn and try to engage in political discussion across the political aisle — not as a means to argue, but as a means to understand. A lack of understanding is likely where this culture stemmed from, so to gain that understanding back will definitely help alleviate it.

Mikayla Rochelle is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those ofThe Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Mikayla by tweeting her at @mikayla_roch.