One-sided discourse at Macalester

By Bassem El-Remesh

This piece was originally published on the writer’s personal blog under the name The Conservative Macalester. It has been almost three months since I came to this fantastic place. A place that so many students wish to come and study in. Macalester College is a small liberal arts college located in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I came here full of ambition and excitement for this life-changing experience. On my first day, I arrived at the airport and International Student Programs mentors were waiting for me with a smile in their faces. They drove me to my dorm, gave me my keys and told me that they are always there for me should I have any question or worry. The next day, I went around campus, I saw the United Nations flag under the American flag, I smiled and hoped for the bright future that this college is going to help me build, inspired by Kofi Annan, Macalester graduate from the class of 1961. Students came from all over the world filled with excitement; we had interesting discussions, different activities and spent fun times. Few weeks later, I started building friendships. I met so many good friends and an awesome roommate, went to different places and started shaping my life here. Everyone was open-minded, and many Americans approached me asking about the Middle East, curious to know more about the rest of the world and how people lived there. I felt happy and proud telling people more about where I live, having political discussions with them, discussing the American foreign policy issues and many other cultural and religious topics. But not all that glitters is not gold! As time passed, I started discovering gaps in this whole experience. While taking a course on American political campaigns, I went deep into the political ideologies in the country and partisanship. I discovered that America has two faces: the Republican (they call it conservative) and the Democrat (they call it liberal). Apparently I was stuck in the “liberal” side of the country. The “liberal” ideology is more appealing to me as a foreigner; it talks about tolerance and understanding, ending of war and promoting human rights. As the election approached, I saw that everyone here supported Obama! Everyone supported voting “no” for the Marriage Amendment and the Voter ID amendment. I have no problem with that; I saw a campus full of political engagement and campaign volunteering. But for one candidate! Where are the Republicans? As time passed, I listened every day to people talking about the same ideas and same political views. While at meetings, I saw people making fun of other students liking Romney’s Facebook page, or even putting a Romney ad in their room or window. They called them idiots! I tried for the sake of being funny to say in front of someone that I am supporting Romney. She got mad at me and asked me never to say that again even as a joke! At another meeting, a girl was angry because she saw a “Vote Yes” sign somewhere off-campus, and she was struck on how people could do that. Another time, I was walking with one of my friends, and she also saw a “Vote Yes” sign outside someone’s house. She started to get angry and accuse those people of being ignorant. Hang on, what is the liberal ideology exactly? Is it that we are right and everyone else is wrong? I thought I came to an international college that promoted world peace and tolerance! Unfortunately, Macalester College only shows us one side of the country, and carefully selected people to satisfy the tradition of it being a liberal, Democratic institution. I told people about that: apparently they have a nice argument that everyone uses (although I firmly believe 90 percent of them have no clue what evidence there is for it). The argument is that Macalester is the college that has the most conservatives in the state of Minnesota. Well cool! Macalester also has a Republican club. Interesting! Apparently I was just making up all what I wrote above and being liberal and closed-minded is a fact that we can’t change. Out of curiosity, I went around campus searching for Republicans. I found two! One of them told me how annoying it is to be here and regretted that he came. Of course he is free to speak up, but there is a ratio of one to 100 of Republicans to Democrats. Put simply, Republicans don’t dare to speak up. But this is not a problem, because only liberals apply to Macalester since it is known to be a liberal college. The problem arises when some faculty voice their opinions. Although they are not allowed to tell students their political opinions, some of them do, and I saw that in my first month here. Republican students would get offended by their professor saying unpleasant words about their political candidate (with all respect to my great professors). It appears to me that I live between conservatives (according to my definition of the word)—people who are not willing to accept the opinion of the other. But those people are very good at being nice to international students. Honestly, I did not come here to brainwashed by one ideology. I came here to see debates, I came here to see open-minded people talking and accepting each other. I came here also to see Americans discussing what is best for their country, not the best for Obama and the liberal party. By writing this article I know that some of my friends will be mad at me, and they might also question why I came here in the first place. Sorry guys, this is the only way we will start rethinking about our life here. If students will not work for the best of the institution they are being educated in, no one will. I kindly ask Macalester students to reconsider and challenge their thoughts, open up to Republicans and have equal talks with them, and make Macalester not only an internationally neutral college, but also nationally neutral, where different ideologies come together and talk responsibly, and give its students the opportunity to decide what is better, not only expose them to one philosophy of thinking.