“Why does he write those things?”
Two years ago, my boyfriend was Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Review. We started dating after I invited him to a Special D in sophomore year. He charmed me that day and has done so every day since. Since we began dating, some friends have asked for — _demanded _— justification for what he writes. After John wrote a piece on Trump’s election victory last November, I was asked why I hadn’t tried to change his “outrageous” opinions.
I read the article, twice. Then I read it again. Nothing seemed to be blatantly incorrect or offensive. The article made one crucial point, which I agree with: Stanford students live in a bubble of their own experiences, and Trump’s presidency was a wake-up call.
As a Turkish immigrant, I know the risks of ignoring half a country all too well. When Erdogan won the presidency, Western Turkey turned its back on the East, deeming it stupid and unworthy of political attention. The consequences are all too clear now.
I agreed with John’s article, and I’ve agreed with many Review pieces in the past. When I disagreed with his points, I have made sure that he knows it. During those times, I’ve suggested places I differ. We then talked and discussed until we reached a resolution. Sometimes, we couldn’t and in those times we acknowledged our disagreements and moved on. But I would never force someone to change his views just because I don’t agree with them.
When I arrived at Stanford as an international student from Turkey, I had high expectations. I assumed that people would be willing to discuss the taboo, the controversial, and the unspoken. I thought that new perspectives would rise above emotional arguments.
I thought I would be able to explore different perspectives with my friends on defendants’ and accusers’ rights in the Title IX process, the threat towards our intellectual vitality coming from within, free speech, and Trump’s presidency. I was ready to step out of my comfort zone. I was excited to experience what most college students can’t back home.
During the past four years, these wishes have been fulfilled on many occasions. But too often, on the most important issues that face our campus and country, people have stayed silent, or worse — intolerant.
The election reduced political dialogue to a petty “us-versus-them” dichotomy. As a Turkish citizen, I am no stranger to controversial elections. But to join any political discussion on campus, you had to join one of two camps: Democrat — or social pariah.
As a foreign student who learned about Republicans and Democrats during college, this separation made me nervous. Which side should I identify with? What does it mean to be a Republican at Stanford? Do I even have to be a Republican or a Democrat?
I believe that such rigid separation is narrow-minded. Partisanship neglects a broad spectrum of political thought by focusing on the extremes. And it stifles us all by suggesting that only one of them is the correct choice, the political philosophy that we should pay attention to.
Politics will always be divisive and controversial. But at Stanford, these polarizing political dynamics manifest themselves in social settings.
Of course, people should be allowed to associate with whomever they like. But students here focus so much on political dichotomies that they judge their relationships and friendships based exclusively on political beliefs.
“How do you do it?”, a good friend of mine asked, referring to dating my Republican boyfriend. Other reactions range from “Oh, he was the EiC of the Review?” to uncomfortable smiles, not knowing what to say next.
Another friend of mine was displeased and unsettled to discover that I go to weekly Review meetings. Some of my friends were taken aback that I believe in “Republican” solutions to some issues. They were even more appalled that I have friends who identify as Republicans.
This hesitancy to explore political diversity is exactly why I joined the Review. I was curious to know just how controversial and insensitive Review meetings must be to garner this much opposition. Do Review staffers all agree with each other? Are they all rich white males who have nothing to do but argue for the sake of arguing?
I found that exactly the opposite was the case. Meetings are full of disagreements. People have a wide range of views on many issues, and constantly challenge each other through well-founded arguments. From computer science to political science majors, from the Midwest to the coasts, from the U.S to the Middle East, the Review is one of the most diverse groups I have seen on campus in beliefs and background.
Review members utilize their backgrounds to bring intriguing arguments to the discussions. On a weekly basis, I enjoy hearing different perspectives on a range of issues — from rural America, to Trump’s decision to strike Afghanistan, to the influence of ethnic housing, to the recent Supreme Court nomination. During meetings, I learn from my ideas being challenged as much as I do from challenging others’.
As a senior who has been involved in many campus organizations, I have witnessed such high-quality, earnest, and well-analyzed discussions occurring at only a couple other campus venues. Most critics of the Review only bother to read its most controversial articles. They don’t realize the quality of discussion that exists in the publication_._
The influence of political separation on campus on friendships and relationships is deeply disappointing. While political views will inevitably help define one’s personality and values, being a member of the Review turns people into overnight outcasts. Ironically, the sorts of conversations the Review engages every week would go a long way to bringing people together.
I have learned much from surrounding myself with people of different political views, and of different demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. As I leave the Farm, I hope that the next generation of Stanford students goes beyond categorizing their views as Democrat or Republican, and interacting only with people that share their ideology.
Instead, Stanford students should take advantage of the university’s intellectual diversity to hear controversial ideas and challenge them. Safe spaces aren’t echo chambers, but places where you can state an opinion, challenge and be challenged, and not be judged untouchable because of what you say.
Stanford tells itself that it is a cut above the rest of America, and the world — cleverer, more reasonable, and more able to bridge divides. It’s time for students to prove that, and take on ideas they don’t like — not just sever ties with anyone who dares speak their mind.