Being an active conservative on today’s college campus is no casual decision. Depending on the college, it can be costly, tiring, and infuriating, and exhausting.
But it’s worth it.
Since the beginning of my freshman year at Gettysburg College, I have served on the executive board of Young Americans for Freedom, the conservative activist group on campus.
Before joining, I was aware of the chapter’s less-than-stellar reputation. In fact, I knew members faced routine, relentless criticism, both in person and online. Yet, as an inspired first-year, I wanted to prove my conviction and find like-minded folks.
I signed up immediately, ignoring the well-intentioned warnings of upperclassmen. Due to controversy from the previous year, membership was low, and I was able to quickly secure a leadership role, one that I maintain today.
Of course, anyone will tell you that it’s one thing to be warned, and another to experience the reality of such counsels.
It is not easy to live openly as a conservative on a progressive college campus. This is not to say I live the most difficult collegiate life. When I say that it is difficult, that is all I intend.
Since I have chosen to be open about my political views, I routinely wonder whether or not a new friend or acquaintance is aware of my affiliation with YAF. As the only active female member, I am not exactly inconspicuous.
As far as I can tell, the negative reaction to my membership is only mitigated by my somewhat gregarious personality. Because of my friendliness, I am often given the benefit of the doubt.
“Yeah, she’s in YAF but she’s actually pretty reasonable.”
“Yeah, she is a member, but she isn’t like what I thought.”
“Yeah, she’s a YAF exec, but she is really nice!”
I have been told that when others admit I am their friend, they often have to give an explanation — a qualification that deems me the exception to the widely accepted rule that YAF members must be hateful bigots.
Though there is ample intellectual diversity within our growing club, my views are not wildly different from some of the members who aren’t granted this benefit of the doubt. And when some of their “friends” disavow any association with them in public, or kick them out of frat parties, my fellow members are bestowed no benefits, and only left with doubt.
I do not enjoy having a qualifier attached to my company, especially since I believe my “disgusting” and “fascist” views are well-reasoned and just. In fact, the demonization of such beliefs, many of which find support in popular society, only inhibits productive political discourse.
Despite this daily insult, if I could go back and redo my first year of college, I would not alter my decisions. Had I not joined YAF, I would see myself as a conviction-less coward, and I would have missed out on some pretty spectacular friendships.
It is important to note that those who qualify their association with me are not all progressives, and I do in fact have quite a few liberal friends on campus, many of whom are wickedly smart and delightfully funny.
In an ironic twist, several of the problems I’ve experienced from being a social and fiscal conservative have been largely bipartisan. Both Democrats and Republicans alike have spurned my friendship, or the friendship of my fellow club members.
That said, the greatest offenses have been from militant leftists.
For example, one evening my fellow club member and I went to a campus-hosted LGBTQ panel. It was a casual event where members of the LGBTQ community could talk about their experiences.
As visible members of YAF, my dear friend and I went to show some good will and prove that we were sensitive to the problems of the LGBTQ community.
During the panel, my friend and I exchanged text messages. Our commentary was largely in response to what the panelists were saying, some of it dismissive and some in jest. However, my friend and I were unaware that those sitting behind us were members of the far-left club on campus, GACC — Gettysburg Anti-Capitalist Collective.
After the panel ended, we found out that these students had leaned over and taken pictures of our private messages, hoping to find proof of our “homophobic” beliefs.
Of course, there was none. But the fact that our private messages did not reflect an overwhelming celebration of what the panelists discussed still earned us the labels of “snide” and “snarky.”
What’s worse, rumors spread that we had been exchanging homophobic messages, despite the lack of any “proof” to support that claim.
I wish that were the only incident. But alas, this small group of militant progressives has similarly spread nasty rumors about YAF and myself on several other occasions.
Shortly after President Donald Trump’s election, they said we disrupted a roundtable discussion and laughed in the face of a rape victim.
That claim also had no basis in reality. We were specifically invited to attend the roundtable because of our conservative views, and were thanked for our participation at the end. In addition, no rape victims identified themselves at the discussion and no one laughed in anyone’s face about any topic.
Ultimately, these rumors spurred the Gettysburg Anti-Capitalist Collective to interrupt our weekly gathering, a confrontation between our group of seven and its 15-plus person membership, which resulted in a shouting match and our meeting getting shut down.
The above recollections are not meant to excuse any past wrongdoing of my YAF chapter. There have been instances in which we behaved immaturely, and purposelessly stoked the political fire on campus, solely for our own amusement.
But the club’s shortcomings and faults — many of which happened under leadership that is no longer in place — do not mitigate the objectively wrong actions that some of our peers have taken toward us. Select members of the progressive community have disrespected our privacy, and ruined any hope at political discourse by spreading baseless, nasty rumors. Indeed, other political clubs refuse to debate with us because of these cruel lies.
The purpose of this account is not to hail myself a “victim.” It is merely to shed light on poor behavior that should not occur, especially on a college campus that aims to promote the free exchange of ideas.
Perhaps members of YAF have been guilty of poor behavior too. But none of us have ever knowingly spread false rumors about the College Democrats, taken photos of Gettysburg Anti-Capitalist Collective’s private messages, or thrown our drinks at progressive students during parties.
My experiences in YAF have shed light on the mercurial nature of modern politics. Upon reflection, it’s easy to simply urge fellow students to adopt better manners and civility.
While that would be ideal, it is not currently feasible — increasingly, members of the left falsely equate conservative views with those of the Nazis. This shameful effort proves that delegitimization, rather than civil dialogue, is the true objective of many on the left.
Instead, I suppose the only antidote is to recognize that poor behavior can be bipartisan. Whether or not you agree with my views on guns, immigration, or welfare, it is important to admit that violations of privacy, fearmongering, harassment, and violence are not acceptable actions, especially on a college campus.
In addition, I would suggest that all members of society, myself included, attempt to depoliticize modern discourse. Though my conservatism impacts my life in myriad ways, there is no need to turn every discussion into a political debate.
If we stop viewing every dimension of life through a political lens, friendships and associations will form regardless of one’s ideology, and those relationships will inspire us to treat one another with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves.
Alexa Secrest is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.
A version of this article previously appeared on The Daily Caller News Foundation website.
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