Prior to coming to GDS, my older brother warned me of the extremely politicized environment that characterized the school. He told me that everyone in the community advocated solely leftist viewpoints and that it would be hard to openly express political or social views that were more nuanced or didn’t perfectly fit the liberal politics students and teachers defend.
As someone who grew up in a household with parents who had differing political stances, one identifying as a Democrat and the other as a conservative, I was exposed to different beliefs at a young age. I was taught that, in politics, there isn’t always a right and wrong, and by affiliating with one party, you don’t necessarily have to agree with every viewpoint that the majority of people in a party supports or denounces. Most of all, I learned to treat people who think differently from me with respect. When my brother disagreed with me about abortion rights—I am pro-choice and he’s not—I was able to at least hear him out and respectfully state my perspective rather than simply deeming him wrong.
It didn’t take me long to understand what my brother was talking about. Within my first week of freshman year, the politically charged nature of GDS became overwhelming. The students’ conversations in the Forum often revolved around politics.
Around the time of the January 6 riot, I overheard conversations calling all Republicans, not just people at the insurrection, racist and violent people. And conversations like these were often shutting down non-liberal political views, characterizing Republicans as racist or misogynistic. As one of my first impressions of GDS, this was worrisome. I have family members who are Republican and would find comments like these to be offensive and spreading misinformation. The concerning part of it all was that the administration never spread a message that its students should be tolerant of the views of others. In fact, in some ways, I feel GDS enables this biased behavior.
Not only was the student culture biased against Republicans, but several teachers even turned classrooms into political podiums. In my freshman year math class, when we talked about taxes, the conversation was shifted by the people in the room to sly remarks judging a certain political figure who was Republican or to degrading those who believed in what they deemed Republican ideologies, like lower taxes. Students threw around insults, saying that anyone who believed in lower taxes must be over privileged and insensitive.
Although I didn’t necessarily agree with the right-wing politics that the community members shunned, I still found value in hearing arguments and evaluating where I stood with an open mind. It was difficult to adjust to GDS in this way because I was raised to have views that were layered and nuanced—views that considered multiple perspectives—and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to become opinionated while maintaining respect and tolerance for people that disagreed with me. What I noticed in my freshman year is that students are rarely even given the opportunity to learn about right-wing politics because, at GDS, Republican opinions have become completely disregarded.
There are certain things that I wish I had known coming into GDS as a freshman. Here are a few of them:
I wish I had not been so inclined to throw away some of my political views just because they didn’t perfectly align with what the majority of the school believed. I don’t believe that when I’m an adult I should be paying over 50 percent of my income in taxes, but when the issue came up in my math class, I was too afraid to speak up. When you give up beliefs to blend in, you become invisible. Having differing viewpoints is beneficial to the school, students and teachers alike. It prepares students for when they emerge into the outside world, where a diverse array of beliefs are not only held, but expressed freely. Listening will help you build a political framework to educate others about why you believe what you believe; you never know whose minds you might change.
I also wish I hadn’t been so silent. I wish I had asked questions regarding why people at school formed negative notions about right-leaning people and how those notions could be changed. Silence is compliance, and when you don’t speak up about something that could be damaging to the community, you are essentially agreeing with what is being said. Do not be afraid to be different, because, honestly, some diversity in thought is something GDS could use since it would expand the understanding of politics for both students and teachers.
Being tolerant in politics does not mean tolerating racism, misogyny, homophobia or other beliefs that degrade difference within human beings. Being a Republican doesn’t automatically make you racist, and being a liberal doesn’t automatically make you an advocate for human rights.
Politics at GDS are great if you agree with every viewpoint people in the community endorse. But more likely than not, you will disagree with a thing or two that people say in the Forum or in class. It is possible, and best, to keep an open mind to new ideas, but also to defend your views, even if they seem unpopular.