The Silencing of Lincoln’s Conservative Students

Submitted by Natalie Brauser on Mon, 04/30/2018 - 14:44 - 0 Comments
Portland, Oregon is a liberal community. Oregon has favored the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since 1988. After the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, riots filled the streets of Portland. Businesses windows were broken, small fires were set, and the police arrested more than one hundred people during the three day riots. 
 
Looking at the voting results for the election, there are about five democrats for every one republican citizen in Portland. With this imbalance of people who label themselves as conservative as opposed to liberal, it’s easy for left individuals to forget that their right counterparts are still present and active members of the community. 
 
Lincoln High School, in downtown Portland, holds a majority of liberal students. 
 
A junior at LHS, Zoe Young, would agree. “It’s clear in classrooms that most students here are left leaning. Teachers here talk about the liberal sides of issues, and I imagine that it is hard for conservative students to feel comfortable voicing their opinions in class because of the amount of backlash they would get. They are just too outnumbered to feel safe.”
 
Most students are not afraid to voice their opinions on issues they care about.  Students at LHS talk about issues that they want changed, and are not afraid to make those changes happen. LHS developed a multi stall gender neutral bathroom, being the first school in the state and the fifth in the nation to do so. The gender neutral bathroom was a step forward for equality, and at Lincoln, equality and inclusiveness are values preached by all, on all matters political or otherwise. But when faced with an opinion that doesn’t match one’s own, that opinion can be easily dismissed. 
 
This leaves students with more conservative outlooks feeling like their opinions don’t matter, leaving them as an outsider in a community that exhorts inclusiveness. Never having their opinions voiced causes problems. They become less confident in what they say, don’t feel like they have the ability to speak out during class, and if they do, it can’t be done without creating some kind of argument which forms a divide to within classes. However, although not the best form of discussion, arguments in class are not always a bad thing. With arguments, authentic dialogues arise that help everyone understand all sides to issues the school, the country, and even the world are facing. The political divide will never be broken if people don’t talk to one another. 
 
A senior at Lincoln approached for an interview about this topic wrote “I’d love to take part in the interview, however I feel that in doing so, I’d be putting a target on my back” and declined the interview out of fear that her perspective would “not be well-received by the Lincoln community.”
This fear of even putting their name out there as a conservative student proves that this is a real problem at Lincoln.
 
“This issue is something I think about everyday” Sara Blodgett, a sophomore at LHS comments. “I usually don’t share [my opinions] because I feel like if I were to share them, then they would get shut down.”
 
Part of the problem is Lincoln’s staff.
 
Blodgett expands on this idea, saying: “In general, I feel like most of the teachers here share a political standpoint - which is fine. They have a similar mindset that’s more liberal. I feel like if I came to them with a problem or an issue about my conservative view not being heard that it wouldn’t be their biggest priority to spread that.”
 
Blodgett isn’t the only person who has noticed the lack of equality given to conservative students.
Matthew Sgroi, a junior at Lincoln, expressed that he doesn’t “feel comfortable with actually expressing [his] own opinion because of the people that will scoff and that will roll their eyes and the feeling that [his] opinions aren’t being accepted and aren’t even being heard- so What’s the point of even speaking up if no one’s going to respect my opinions?”
 
Situations like this are noticed by students throughout the school. Joseph Schlechter adds to Sgroi’s opinion: “A lot of Lincoln teachers only allow certain voices to be heard, or even a more subconscious thing they do is that they’ll argue with a more conservative political point of view, yet openly accept or add on to more liberal points of view, an issue which I’ve talked to teachers about and some have been very hostile towards me.”
 
Why would teachers ever be hostile towards their students? One answer is that they may not realize that they do this. Because they live in a community where the vast majority of the citizens are liberals, they may just assume that students will share their views. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid a hostile environment while also trying to allow students to develop and discuss their opinions with others. To prevent an unfriendly environment, a teacher might have to censor what’s being said by them or by their students.
 
Because most teachers are already on the liberal student’s side, it makes the life of said student easier than that of the conservative student.
 
Carmen Vintro, a junior who is left leaning, expressed that “Liberal students aren't expected to bring evidence to the table because everything they say is already widely accepted by the class, and that’s a problem.”
 
Young told stories about how students in her class who spoke publically about their conservative views were pressed by students as well as the teacher about why they said the things they said, whereas liberal students would slide easily by, not having to back up what they say as it was assumed everyone agreed already.
 
Schlechter has had conflicts with teachers in the past, sometimes getting into heated debates during class. “Many students would come up to me after hearing about the conversations I would have and tell me that either they or a friend would be too scared to say anything in class because it just creates such a hostile environment, and I think it really comes down to teachers and how teachers address it.  Students have a lack of power and although we as students have some influence over one another it’s not as much as a teacher has. Teachers have an official role to make sure that the education their students get is completely comprehensive. I think that for discussions this means that they should participate as least as possible and guide things in a way that makes sure people aren’t attacking each other.”
 
After talking with multiple students, there was a clear theme: they all blamed teachers to some degree for conservative students not feeling welcome in conversations.
 
But, the teachers cannot just be the problem. Students need to take it upon themselves to make everyone feel welcome in discussions, and although it is easier to blame a teacher as they hold the most authoritative position, it would not be hard for students to make a change in the situation. To help conservative students get their opinions across and understood, students need to turn the classroom into a safe space. Eye rolling and other insolent actions after hearing opposing opinions need to stop in order to help everyone’s opinions seem equal, and overall a more respectful attitude needs to be taken on. Without talk from both sides of the spectrum, Lincoln turns into an echo chamber, where the same ideas keeps being repeated, and aren’t necessarily growing in the ways that they could. Being challenged helps you discover why you believe what you believe and if it’s truly valid. Bringing in opinions from all over prompts students to learn more and obtain evidence to support their theories or realize that what one may have started off thinking may not be full supported.
 
A huge part of any liberal ideology is equality. With equality one usually jumps to racial or gender equality, but equality between political parties needs to exist too. Simply because one has different political views than another does not mean that someone has any right to push them aside. Lincoln needs to become a place where safe discussions can happen, and where all students are given the respect they deserve.
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Natalie Brauser's picture

Natalie began working for Beyond the Flock in fall 2017, and became the Art Director in the spring. Later she took on the position of Director of Photography. She is a Lifeguard and enjoys playing water polo. Class of 2019.