When I was first applying to colleges, I searched for a university where I could receive individualized attention from professors and study with friends who were dedicated to their classwork. I was terrified of going to a party school where I would simply be a number, and I knew that if I stayed in-state, that would have most likely occurred.
After researching more than fifty colleges, I decided to apply to a handful of liberal arts colleges and women's colleges, where I knew I could receive a phenomenal education. Along with this, I am highly liberal, and wanted to be around classmates who shared the same political ideology. I grew up in an area that was politically and religiously conservative, and wanted to move as far away as possible from my hometown. However, I failed to evaluate what my social experience would be like while I was applying to college.
When I finished the college application process, I decided to commit to an all-female liberal arts college in the Mid-Atlantic region. As I was packing for college and registering for classes, I was so excited for freshman year — it would be a huge change, and I would be close to major cities like Philadelphia, New York and Boston. I couldn't wait to attend a women's college where professors and students indubitably valued my input.
While I was settling into college, I talked to my roommate about how excited I was to compete on the debate team and write for the college newspaper. I wanted to get involved in college as much as possible, and meet other people who shared the same interests as me. After a few weeks of classes and club meetings, I discovered how strict my college atmosphere was, and quickly became disheartened by the lack of political diversity.
I noticed that the conservatives on my college rarely contributed to campus-wide discussions. In several of my orientation meetings and classes, college conservatives were shouted down, and were mocked and laughed at. Several people complained that these college conservatives were "invalidating their existence" and were racists or homophobes. I didn't say anything because I was terrified that if I defended the conservatives, I would be the next target.
After the presidential election, conservatives were not the only students who were attacked. Many liberal students were also mocked as well for not being politically correct — one of my best friends was called a "Nazi" for sharing her opinions about being a Catholic in America. Several students were reported to the college's honor board for being a "racist," "sexist" or a "classist" for simply saying something wrong.
I also was mocked after sharing my political opinions with peers in classes or student organizations. When I was in a history class, I was participating in a class discussion about how to foster economic development in Sub-Saharan African states. I described the benefits of bringing tourism to underdeveloped countries, and encouraging programs that would enhance the professional skills of individual citizens. After sharing my remarks, a student stood up and shouted that she was tired of white people with their racist opinions. She and a group of students declared that I had no clue what I was talking about when it came to African history. I left the class fearful that a similar incident would happen in the future. I experienced similar situations throughout my freshman year where another student would explicitly call me a sexist, racist, classist or transphobic for saying something that was politically incorrect. I felt like I was trapped in an environment where I could be punished for saying anything that was slightly offensive.
Due to all these experiences, I isolated myself from others and stopped joining organizations on campus. I was incredibly upset that I kept seeing friends and professors attacked for sharing a wrong opinion or committing a "microaggression," instead of letting it become a learning experience. In February, I decided to transfer colleges after months of dissatisfaction with the social and political atmosphere. I knew that I would lose my self-esteem after being in such a politically tense environment.
Even though I couldn't have possibly imagined attending a state university in high school, I decided to commit to a state school where there is a high level of political diversity. I felt like I needed to prioritize my emotional and social wellbeing, and not just focus on my academic experience. I'm incredibly excited to attend a school with a phenomenal political science department, high-ranking debate team and a variety of student activities.
Transferring colleges has been arduous — I had to go through the college application process again, stress about fulfilling general education requirements and learn how to navigate a huge campus. However, the change was absolutely necessary so I could find friends who cared about other issues besides politics and school. Even though I'll miss my professors and a few close friends at my first college, I'm excited for a fresh start. Change is always difficult, but it's sometimes the best decision when it comes to taking care of yourself. College has definitely taught me that.
Lead Image Credit: Reinis Traidas via Flickr Creative Commons