I was always an avid believer in free speech; discussing and learning about one’s experiences, and understanding that the different backgrounds we come from shape our reality and magnetize us to our individual purpose in life.
I have a natural curiosity about the reasons why people hold certain beliefs, so it wasn’t a surprise that I was instantly attracted to join a political organization at my school, Emerson College.
Months after getting involved with my conservative student organization, we hosted an event at the beginning of the 2021 Fall semester, criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—in light of the Beijing Winter Olympics—following their human rights violations against Uyghurs.
We handed out stickers, but what was intended to be an educational event of discourse on the numerous atrocities committed by the CCP was ultimately twisted into a supposed anti-Asian “hate” incident.
From a single social media post, the president of my college released a statement the following day, calling it “anti-Asian bigotry and hate.”
Soon after came hundreds of messages from the entire student body which carried on for the rest of my semester. People on social media called us “shady” and “disgustingly immature.”
I experienced hate, combativeness, and negligence in those 3.5 months following my incident on campus, to a degree I had never experienced before.
Class dynamics took a drastic turn. I found myself self-censoring after numerous failed attempts at class participation. I felt either overlooked by professors and students or instantly recognized and targeted.
The anxiety and hostility increased as our school’s newspaper continued to add fuel to the fire, releasing article after article about the incident on campus, which further made me a target.
My daily routine shifted to staying out of people’s way, taking every meal I ate to-go, attending all classes online, and ultimately spending the rest of my semester in complete isolation in my dorm room.
It’s an alarming self-battle when you start to second-guess yourself on why you are even trying so hard to communicate your point to those who could literally care less.
In my experience of being immersed in a college campus, I found it wasn’t that the majority of students hated conservatives, but that there was a lack of understanding amongst the youth about conservatism, as well as a general apathy towards politics.
It is the result of living in a hypersensitive society where anything which combats your supposed worldview is taken as a personal attack. Consequently, I recognize that many conservatives feel the inherent need to be defensive in a reactionary way to combat the opposition, which only worsens our culture.
My experiences within the American education system contributed to my understanding of this polarization. And my experiences growing up outside of the U.S. shaped my worldview.
An ongoing debate in academia revolves around the discussion of politics on college campuses. Intellectual diversity, freedom of thought, and freedom to express and discuss views with one another in the safety of a classroom are things we are very privileged to have here in America.
We are in an age of contested national elections, ideological polarization, domestic terrorist attacks, and the birth of new social movements. Nothing new at all, but we appear to be more divisive than ever in today’s developed society.
The polarization of American politics makes its way into young minds, as we see college students struggle to work other opinions into their worldview.
College campuses should be environments in which open dialogue is encouraged, multiple viewpoints are explored, and diversity is championed, because that is the reality of what we will face after college.
Breaking down our ethnocentrism is fundamental in expanding our worldview. Otherwise, colleges will no longer be places that welcome educational debates, exploration of ideas, and the search for answers to our world’s problems.
I often say that if we cannot discuss ideas with one another in the environment of a college classroom, we are breeding intolerant people for the real world. We speak so much about diversity in our contemporary world, but we often neglect the diversity of thought and experiences of every individual.
I decided to leave campus after the incident with our anti-CCP event and move forward. There are certain battles in life that aren’t worth fighting, especially when you don’t have a strategic game plan, and the right people supporting you.
I had to prioritize my future and take my passion somewhere else.
I am an avid believer in divine timing and everything happening for a reason. If I didn’t go through my campus experience, I would have never moved states to take on an internship at the Leadership Institute, ultimately landing me a job I have never been more proud of.
At the time, leaving campus felt like a selfish act; like I was surrendering to a group of people who disagreed with me. How could I preach fighting for free speech, then ultimately back down once I felt beaten and broken down?
It wasn’t a lost battle, however, and I transferred my energy someplace else, while still staying true to my beliefs. You never know how selfish the act of self-preservation can feel, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
I am now immersed in a completely new world; people open to discourse, a search for truth, who all share an understanding of the sacredness of our right to do so.
You can hate me all you want, but I would rather deal with that hate than take that right away from you, and the ability to speak against me.
If the roles were switched, I would hope to see you fight for what you believe in, but also be vulnerable and open to allowing the possibility of those viewpoints to change. Mine absolutely have over the years.
In the same ways you are combative and fighting against what I am standing for, I hope you can see the value in why I am doing the absolute same.
I am not a political person at all, and it was always so funny to me how I interned in a political non-profit during my summer months and ended up working here, but politics will always find its way into every part of your life whether you like it or not.
It is a necessity to get involved in the movement if you care about the future—that is the piece of advice I would give to the youth. Challenge yourself by putting your energy and effort into something which matters and carries future generations.
KJ Lynum was born in Singapore and has lived around the world. When she moved to America, KJ found her passion in helping to promote civil discourse in our politics. While at Emerson College in Boston, she helped form a chapter of Turning Point USA, and now works as the Events Coordinator at the Leadership Institute.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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