Article and tweets by Julia Khanina
The day after Election Day in 2016, we spent an entire literature class at Kingsborough Community College discussing the outcome. I was silent, because revealing that you are a conservative to the group of people who voted for a liberal candidate did not feel comfortable.
After many students expressed their frustration with the outcome, one young woman pronounced, “I support Donald Trump.” I saw our teacher burying her face in her hands, laughing, as the entire class started buzzing and dismissively smiling.
When I came to Baruch College, I wondered how different the situation might be. After all, New York City is largely liberal. Is it safe to admit that I support Republicans, or would I have to closet myself again?
Luckily, I realized that I’m more surrounded by students with conservative views than at Kingsborough. Still, it’s not always easy to speak out.
Gregory Usvitsky, a student and an active member of Baruch Republican club, confessed: “I feel that many of my friends will not talk to me if they find out that I support Donald Trump.” He tries to avoid political conversations with other students because he feels he can be targeted. Pondering whether his grades will suffer because of his political views, he said, “I’m afraid that my opinion can affect my admission to the law school.”
Only 6% of students at Baruch associate themselves with the Republican Party, according to Niche.com, a website that analyzes data on U.S. schools and neighborhoods. However, Vincent Gangemi, the president of the Right Wings, a student organization, disagreed. “I think it’s more than 6%; I would say 40%,” Gangemi said. “We are still a minority, but not a small minority.”
Nicholas Morris, another student with conservative beliefs, pointed out that “today being a Republican on college campus is equal to being a gay in 1985.” Morris, who said he was mostly been a Republican and economically conservative, is not silent in the classroom. “I feel outnumbered, but I’m not intimidated,” he said.
Gangemi said of campus Republicans, “We are fortunate. It could have been much harder. And it is definitely worse in other schools.” He mentioned that the opportunity to create the club endorsing Republican views is one of the biggest steps, as views became a little more polarized since the last election.
Professors usually allow everyone to speak freely, but conservative students believe that there is a certain level of bias. “When I’m enrolling in the class, I assume that my professor will be liberal,” said Usvitsky. And Morris remembered a time when a professor got upset after he expressed his opinion about transgenders and threatened to dismiss him from the class. Morris said he called the American Civil Liberties Union for advice and was told to call back should he be dismissed.
Valerie Watnick, of the Law Department, commented: “I do believe that conservatives are outnumbered, but I welcome all perspectives from all sides. It is difficult for conservatives to voice their opinions, but I wouldn’t say that their First Amendment rights have been violated.” Most students agree.
“An important goal of the classroom, for professors and students, is to foster a positive learning environment,” Prof. Geanne Belton, a journalism professor, said in an email. “They should be encouraged to engage in a respectful dialogue in the classroom, even when they disagree with each other.” An inability to have a balanced dialogue and dirty looks from other students can sometimes make conservative students keep quiet. Morris shared his experience of being called a racist: “The entire class just melted down when I talked about my highlights of the paper about Syrian migration.”
Brian Zumba, a liberal student and a moderator for the last debates between Democrats and Republicans in Baruch, acknowledged that there is a level of dismissiveness on campus toward conservatives’ views. “I think it is not a Baruch problem, it is a New York City problem,” he said. “This dismissiveness will go away as they grow.”
“There has always been a Republican presence on campus, just less organized. It was a chance for them to demonstrate their views and they seized that opportunity,” added Zumba.
Because Baruch is home to the Zicklin School of Business–the nation’s largest business school–campus views may be relatively moderate in the contrast to other CUNY schools, said Zumba and Gangemi.
Constant discussions with students who share Democratic views are challenging in a way, forcing conservatives to be vigilant and informed. The Democrats “breed ‘stronger’ Republicans,” explained Gangemi.