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Column: Few Conservatives A Problem On Campuses

This story was written by Michael Wilkerson and Sagar Doshi, The Stanford Daily

Students: Name the conservative friends you have.

Im talking about friends of yours people whose company you actually enjoy. How many can you come up with? Two? Three? Gasp, perhaps even five?

You dont see or hear conservatives on this campus because of the astonishing strength of the liberal voice here. According to The Stanford Dailys exit polls after last weeks election, only 8.8 percent of voters polled self-identified as conservative. Compare that to 57.6 percent of voters who identified themselves as liberal. The lack of a conservative voice on this campus is a problem for all of us, and we must work actively to change this.

Let me be clear. I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. I spent a summer interning at the headquarters of the Obama campaign in Chicago. I helped phone bank to say no to Proposition 8. I have voted Democrat in every election since I have been able to vote.

But I nonetheless believe whole-heartedly that I am made a better person when there are more people around me with whom I disagree. Its never healthy to have blind confidence in ideals. I feel more confident in what I believe in when my opinions are challenged. I need to be able to explain why I have the beliefs I have. If I cant make even one argument to justify my beliefs, then why do I have them at all?

A few, brave conservatives are willing to be open and clear about their views, allowing others to oppose them freely. It makes sense to me that so many of them are so articulate in the defense of their political opinions. In order to retain the strength of their beliefs, they have had to argue and debate time and time again until they have come to a point where they know themselves extremely well.

Unfortunately, many others remain quiet. Conservatives I know often avoid discussing political issues for fear of immediate retribution from their peers. Why do we so rarely hear conservative viewpoints put forth at dining tables and in common rooms? Not because conservatives dont exist on this campus, but because they feel isolated and antagonized.

How can such a situation lead to a proper debate? How can we come out of Stanford more world-wise and knowledgeable without being forced to grapple with diverse viewpoints on the campus? For me, the best part of Stanford has been the people I have met and the diverse backgrounds, experiences and personalities they have had. I wish we got to see more political diversity as well.

Im not saying this because I am a closet conservative, or because I have some hidden agenda. What upsets me is the apparent state of conservative self-censorship and the campus pressures that have helped create it.

How do we ameliorate these circumstances? Some steps have already been taken in the right direction. The Stanford Review tries to provide a conservative political voice, but it is a magnet for contempt and is still relatively small in both staff and readership. A new student group, the Stanford Political Union, offers an open forum for discussion and debate. Over the past two quarters, their debates have been on topics ranging from the Iraq War to Sarah Palins qualifications.

Many liberals who attended SPUs debates were surprised to find that they agreed with some of the opinions expressed by the conservative speakers. This was SPUs purpose; rather than declare a winner, the dialogue itself helps people who disagree begin to understand one another.

Fleshing out ideas and opinions in detail forces people to step in others shoes and begin to recognize their viewpoints. This should be happening outside of the context of organized debates. In dorms, in houses, in dining halls on campus, people should draw out conflicting opinions. We shoud talk about the issues of the world, civilly and deeply. If not on a college campus, where else?

Look, I understand it can be awkward to talk with your friends about topics that might be controversial. Its a risk. But the fact is that Stanford can be a great place to gain some perspective. Here, today, may be the last, best chance to learn about the why behind a disagreement. Not only will you learn more about your friends, but youll also reinforce the common values that you share. Stanford will only become a more open marketplace of ideas if we actively make that happen.

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