Whenever I travel to Republican events around the state, the first question is almost always, “So tell me, is it hard to be a Republican at Berkeley?” They assume that my daily life consists of constant liberal brainwashing from professors, hostility from other students and scoffing from administrators.
I’ve experienced all of that during the last four years at Berkeley, but that hasn’t represented the majority of my interactions on this campus. Instead, I find that most students and professors are genuinely curious to hear a minority point of view. They appreciate the opportunity to hear the conservative position that so many in the nation hold but so few on this campus publicly confess.
In the same vein, I’ve had tremendous opportunities to interact with individuals who hold perspectives and opinions different from my own. I was interested in politics in high school but rarely encountered anyone with the same interest and intellectual curiosity on the other side of the aisle. When I came to Berkeley, I found plenty. Two months into my college experience, I witnessed hundreds of students celebrate the election of Barack Obama on Telegraph Avenue. For better or worse, I found a school full of intelligent political people.
Looking back, I realize how important this experience has been. One of the biggest problems in American politics is that voters have self-segregated. Democrats live in the urban areas on the coast, Republicans in rural areas inland. As a result, most voters only talk to people who believe as they do. They don’t understand the perspective of those who believe differently and thus punish their elected officials for compromising.
Not only have my years at Berkeley allowed me to see the other side — it’s allowed the other side to see me. Working with the Berkeley College Republicans, we have worked hard to create dialogue on this campus. The Increase Diversity Bake Sale was a great example. On the day of the event, I had to walk across campus to turn in a paper. Every single person I overheard was talking about the bake sale and racial preferences. The opinions were varied, but people were talking. Many considered one point of view or the other for the first time.
Personally, I’ve matured in my political beliefs during my time at Cal. I’m still conservative, but I understand differing perspectives. Before I argue an issue, I think about why a person might hold the opposite view. This makes me a stronger advocate. Instead of speaking from my own ideological corner, I can use my knowledge of other people’s perspectives to convince them that they should change their views (or at least respect my own).
This is what Berkeley must encourage if it is to remain the best public university in the nation. An academic institution cannot thrive if the university picks sides and tries to prevent one side from expressing its opinion. Students, faculty and administrators on campus must encourage those with differing perspectives to speak up. Whether you are liberal, conservative or in between, you will find it an incredible learning opportunity.
Andy Nevis, a political science major, was executive director of the Berkeley College Republicans from January 2011 to April 2012.