I received so many words of support and encouragement in the months leading up to attending St. John’s University, but one from my best friend’s mother stuck with me the most: “It’s gonna be a good eye-opening experience for you, because you won’t be so conservative anymore.” This statement served as another annoying reminder of American universities being decidedly liberal, a fact of life that conservatives such as myself must deal with. Actually, not only did others expect me to deal with it, but to come out of it a leftist as well.
“Could it really be that overpowering?” I wondered.
While some of my family sent me off with warnings to not allow myself to be ‘indoctrinated,’ I felt determined to keep an open mind. That meant that I would not just simply dismiss any information taught in class that did not line up with what I already believed. It also meant that I would not just take whatever the professors said at face value either. I need to state right up front that I never felt any hostility from any of my professors, even when I would make my own unpopular political opinions known. And I did make them known in multiple classes. Multiple times. It felt exhausting.
I made the same argument over and over again in different classes with different professors who all essentially said the same thing. And it started in my very first year, continued all the way through my senior year, and now happens in grad school as well. In sophomore year I took a sociology class taught by a woman who described herself as a Marxist and strongly advocated for democratic socialism. At almost every class meeting I made my disagreement with her opinions clear. It actually ended up being one of my favorite classes. I received an ‘A’ grade, and when I said goodbye to the professor on the last day of class she stated, “I enjoyed you, Sal.”
By all means, this positive college experience played out the way education should.
The professor presented ideas and the students were allowed to debate, discuss and even disagree. Indeed, nearly all of my classes were like this. I became exhausted because every class consisted of a liberal professor proposing liberal ideas and me feeling the need to argue against them. Never did I experience a conservative professor whose ideas I agreed with, allowing me to just sit back and watch a liberal student engage in debate with them. More classes than I care to remember required me to read articles and texts that either suggested or outright said that capitalism inevitably created a hierarchical, racist society and that democratic socialism would solve all of the world’s problems, as if by magic. Only in one single course, a history course on Soviet Russia, did I study the downside of a socialist economy. One class in four years of studying.
Again, I must state that I never felt hostility from any of my professors or fellow students. In fact, I consider my undergraduate experience at St. John’s as an extremely positive one, overall. So positive that I’m currently still enrolled there, studying to receive my master’s in English. But something occurred to me during my undergraduate studies; if college strives to introduce its students to new ideas, then I certainly got my money’s worth much more than my liberal colleagues. Seemingly raised in liberal households, most of my fellow students were now just learning to keep on believing what they always had, instead of how to think critically.
After the classes, they probably believed the same things, just even more so now.
Of course, this does not mean that they learned nothing from their college experiences, but they were not being challenged like me. This means that they were not given the same opportunities as me to be able to practice developing their arguments to defend their positions. They also didn’t get the same chance to change their minds on some things, as I did on the subject of teaching Critical Race Theory. Going into college I felt, as many conservatives do, that American education leans too left-wing. I still believe that, but for different reasons now. Universities should teach right-wing and left-wing ideas and values, not so that conservatives can feel more at ease, but so that liberals can experience the same thing I did and continue to. It remains an experience that I am truly grateful for.