I had no real root in politics before coming to American University two years ago. I knew what I believed in, and I knew what I didn’t. But that was about it. Politics never concerned me much back on Long Island. Maybe because I still couldn’t vote or because discussing political topics never ended well with my older brother.
But then again, maybe college gives you the chance to learn the most about yourself. And in turn, your political affiliations. Nonetheless, I came to American University ignorant as to what was in store. The ignorance sky rocketed with the impending election that took place in 2016, my junior year.
The morning after one of the presidential debates, my psychology professor asked for our opinions. The student sitting next to me complimented one of Donald Trump’s statements. He finished his thought by saying he would probably cast his vote for the Republican nominee.
Several gasps and eye rolls from the rest of the class immediately followed the student’s comment.
These horrified reactions struck me. But that’s not what surprised me most. An American University student, who likely held a different opinion than everyone else in the room, was brave enough to share that opinion. At that moment I realized one of the most important lessons learned in college: being brave.
During my time at AU, I’ve somewhat crawled out of my shell. I joined the school’s TV station and made friends whom I love. However, I still doubt myself. I’m reluctant to raise my hand in class and let peers see my work. I’ve never once submitted an internship application thinking, “Yes, I really think I got this one.”
I have learned that in order to be brave, you need to be put in situations that require bravery. So, while you might not fit in perfectly on your campus, you have a place anyway. You can belong on a liberal campus even if you’re not liberal.
When Trump was named the President-elect of the United States, you could feel the air coming out of AU. Loud protests erupted on the quad the next morning. Major news sources reported the protests that took place on AU’s campus that day, including the burning of an American flag. I was struck with an overwhelming intensity of the community I stumbled into years ago.
I was in awe of the strong reactions, and how people weren’t afraid to let others know exactly how they felt.
That day made me think back to the student who offered his unpopular opinion in class. I remembered the many times I had something to say, but didn’t speak up. When students protested on the quad and spoke angrily to reporters, it made me think of the many times I feared standing out in a crowd. I thought of the times I held a different opinion than the people around me, but kept it to myself. I thought of the times in my reporting and production classes that I lacked confidence in my work and didn’t present it to the class.
And while I might continue to doubt, college taught me that judgement will always come. You just have to figure out a way to deal with it.