The Silent Minority
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More stories from Zachary Sorenson
September 2, 2016
Does CHS create a safe space for conservative views?
Clayton as a school is tolerant of all races, religions and sexual persuasions.
We have robust student organizations like the BSU, JSU and GSA that represent the interests of large swaths of the diverse and cosmopolitan community within our school.
In addition, we also have a district administration that is willing to take measures to ensure that a safe environment remains within our school, such as the invitation to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) over the course of two days; an event which took place in light of the recent acts of hatred which included the desecration of a historic Jewish cemetery and anti-Semitic expression on social media by several students.
This same administration, despite criticism, has sought to uphold the District commitment to the values of trust, accountability and inclusiveness though this event and their recent communications to us. Our District administration should be applauded for seeking inclusion for so many.
However, unfortunately our school has failed to be inclusive, or open minded, or tolerant, of many within our school – those that are conservative or simply moderate in political persuasion.
In doing so our school has played into the insularity and inaccessibility that often and unfortunately defines much of our school’s claimed identity.
A safe space has been created for many students; however, some of the students at our school continue to feel unsafe. They feel unsafe to voice their opinions, or defend their values, or even maintain neutrality in the ideological firefight that has embroiled our nation.
When the Anti-Defamation League came to our school to facilitate a discussion they set some rules of engagement.
The goal of these rules was to establish a space where students felt free to discuss the issues facing our community.
One such rule was that bias is universal, a true statement and one of many critical acknowledgements to be made in most productive discourses.
I myself am biased, so are you and your father and your mother. We aren’t all racists, or homophobes, or islamophobes, but we all have prejudices that inform our actions and feelings.
The ADL asked us to do our best to set those aside for the sake of a dialogue.
Later, when discussing the event with a girl who self identifies as a liberal she asserted that I was biased.
I insisted I was not. She insisted I was. She insisted that all people were biased, I asked her whom she was biased against and she replied,“I try not to be biased towards anyone of course, but anytime I talk to someone who identifies as a conservative, I do find myself making judgments about them or what they believe.”
This justifiably expands what I had considered to be bias.
Bias is not necessarily towards someone’s race or gender or religion. Bias is simply a positive or negative unfair prejudice towards a group of people.
Bias is by its nature however specifically unfair, it wouldn’t be unfair to associate someone who identifies themselves as conservative with conservative viewpoints – it would be unfair to associate them with the worst elements of their movements or associate them with entirely different political movements.
A negative bias towards conservative voices in Clayton exists, all you need to do is ask conservatives or people who have experienced maintaining political views outside of what is mainstream in Clayton.
People who identify themselves as conservatives put themselves at risk of being associated with the worst of their movement and adjacent movements, such as the alt-right.
Many people who I’ve spoken to resent the conflation between being a republican, or a conservative and maybe even being in support of Donald Trump with being in support of some of the outrageous things Trump has said.
Matthew Straetker, who attended the inauguration of the President with me during the weeklong Close-Up trip, regularly states his political stance as, “supporting the party, not the president.”
Straetker still encounters, however, plenty of flak for harboring anything resembling support for the President with people making gross suppositions regarding his beliefs and personal convictions.
His experiences, naturally, make him reluctant to share his opinions or ideas with people who do not ostensibly share his convictions.
The school has done a great job of working towards the goals created as the mission statement of the District, its stated goal of inclusiveness, “by valuing individual differences and the contributions of a diverse student body and staff,” and of trust, “by building relationships based on integrity, mutual respect and open communication,” and even further accountability, “by aligning our actions and resources with our stated objectives and taking responsibility for the outcomes.”
However they have done just that – made progress on their stated objectives.
The school has expanded its role as an arbiter of dialogue and discussion both in and outside of school.
It has taken on the responsibility to ensure that our students feel safe and are exposed to a diverse environment while they are educated.
The District and the school body should not forget that they have an obligation to treat all their peers with respect
If measures are not taken to encourage dialogue among students of differing perspectives – including those of conservatives – we will not be able to accomplish the values our District strives to uphold. If we are not able to expose the student body to a diverse array of opinions they will not be prepared to make educated decisions in a heavily partisan country.
If we want to ‘burst’ the ‘bubble’ that surrounds our community we have to make decisions that expose ourselves and our peers to contrary and diverse opinions.
Finally, if we do not attempt to give a voice to the people who are afraid to speak then those people will remain silent.