Macalester’s social tolerance translates to political intolerance

“Mac attracts the best and brightest. Macalester students are an open-minded, friendly bunch, more politically and socially progressive than their peers at similar institutions. The school provides an atmosphere of high-powered scholarship and success, pairing academic rigor with global perspective. Teaching is paramount.” – Fiske Guide to Colleges

Macalester prides itself on acceptance and tolerance. Mac boasts of being home to one of the most diverse campuses in the country, accepting students of every gender, race, ethnicity, religion, orientation, background, socioeconomic status, etc. As I applied to multiple universities, I imagined what it would be like to attend a college as diverse as Mac, and its reputation of tolerance definitely attracted me. I believed that an education from Macalester would allow me a glimpse at people whose lives are very different from my own.

I was raised in a middle-class, conservative and religious family. My family lives in a suburban neighborhood in Southern California. We get together with extended family on a regular basis and when we do, talk of politics dominates most of the conversation. Like most Christians, we attend church every Sunday, say grace before meals and have a God-fearing outlook on life. Even though I was raised conservatively, I have never been sheltered. My family has always been open to discussion on different types of thinking and beliefs on various topics. I knew that not everyone at Mac would share my opinions, but I was under the impression that this was a campus of tolerance, they would respect my views just as I would respect theirs.

However, upon accepting my admittance, no one mentioned that all religious beliefs, political views, general opinions, thoughts, viewpoints, and comments would be respected, but only if they conformed to the Macalester way.

This past semester I took my first religious studies course, “Sex, Lies, and Religious Ethics.” Throughout the course we discussed controversial topics and analyzed them from different religious perspectives. One of our first major issues to tackle was the topic of same-sex marriage. We spent the first day of the unit discussing the reading we had been assigned the night before.

The author’s position was clear; at least I thought it was. He argued for a more traditional approach to same-sex relationships, still allowing for couples to legally be together but categorizing it as a “civil union” rather than a “marriage.” The author saw “marriage” as a religiously charged word representing “a holy union between a man and woman in the eyes of God,” and thus didn’t deem it appropriate for same-sex relationships. I found myself agreeing with him for the most part, although some of his points were a bit extreme, even given my Christian background. When the professor finished his brief synopsis of the reading and asked for comments I went to raise my hand, but then I caught myself and paused.

I knew what I wanted to say wasn’t what my peers wanted to hear. They wanted me to say that I was appalled that a man would deny a committed couple their God-given human rights, ironic given the topic of discussion. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t share this opinion; instead I wanted to agree with the author and defend his position. I knew what was coming, so I sat for a few moments, experiencing a struggle within myself. I debated what was more important, my opinion or saving face? Finally, my pride got the better of me, as it usually does, and I raised my hand.

My comment was met with a slew of responses, most of them negative. At first I responded to each of them in stride, backing up my opinion, making eye contact with the person questioning me and keeping my voice steady. I acknowledged the flaws in my argument and respectfully disagreed with my classmates, never once insulting the person addressing me. This common courtesy was not reciprocated.

It seemed to take days for the hour to pass. These comments were no different than the last and their responses and comments were relatively the same, but they still stung. “And your family agrees with you?” “I think you’re missing the point here.” “You should reread the article, you sound ignorant.” “You must be Christian.”

The attack, as I like to describe it, continued until all I could do was sit with my head bowed, eyes on my own clammy, folded hands. Even after I refused to respond, the insults kept flying. “You’re insensitive to the situation.” “I’m sure this is how you were brought up, but it isn’t right to think that way.” Finally, after what seemed like an endless bashing, my professor stepped in. “Well I think we’ve covered enough for today, see you all Wednesday.” As I quickly gathered my things to leave, he and I made eye contact, and I could see in that moment his sympathy for me.

Looking back on it now, I didn’t need his sympathy. Although the comments hurled at me cut deep that day, they ultimately made me stronger, a firmer believer in my opinions. After talking to several of my friends about the incident, many of them suggested dropping the course. But I never dropped; instead I embraced my role as devil’s advocate, or better yet Christ’s advocate.

Now that I have attended Mac for just over two years, I recognize its tolerance policy for what it truly is: hypocritical. The majority of Macalester community members, students and professors alike, are very accepting of those who share the same liberal and progressive opinions, but if someone steps forward opposing their views, they are made to look ignorant and discriminatory. Debates and disagreements are inevitable, and I believe these are ultimately constructive in an academic environment, such as the one Mac provides, but the concept of “agree to disagree” is completely overlooked and those that choose to disagree are looked down upon as lesser intellectuals. As a middle-class, white, Christian female I don’t usually feel like a minority, but in the context of Macalester I believe my views and opinions are frequently ignored and consistently challenged. I find this to be extremely ironic coming from an institution that prides itself on representing the minority and ensuring their voice be heard within the community.