Our university prides itself on having one of the most diverse student populations in the country. “All of this adds up to a community and classrooms strengthened by diverse points of view,” USF claims on their website. This should translate to an overall willingness to hear and accept different points of view. Sadly, this has not been my experience at USF. As a proud Jewish and Republican student, how can I “change the world from here” if the students can’t even hear me?
As a freshman, I gave a presentation on something very close to my heart: the country of Israel. The presentation was an assignment for class, and I prepared slides on why Israel was so important to my family, the historical background and factual information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I even prefaced my presentation with a slide acknowledging that there were many points of view on this conflict, and that I was going to be presenting a view that was very personal to me and my family. My grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles were placed in extermination and concentration camps. Israel was the only safe haven for everyone in my family, and all the other Jewish people, who had survived the Holocaust. It was my perspective and I was not trying to make it anyone else’s perspective. At the very least, I expected to be given the opportunity to actually finish my presentation without being verbally attacked. Three slides into my presentation, I was met with students yelling that Israel is the apartheid, that my ideas were stupid, I was wrong and that Israel is a horribly cruel state. The classroom was combative. The professor apologized for not cutting the students off sooner, but it did not make me feel any better. That day, I felt unwelcomed, excluded and not valued. I was devastated; where was this core value of diversity in the classroom that was supposed to allow each student to safely present a point of view?
As the months went on, I quickly learned that just because a university has a diverse population does not mean they are open to diverse points of view. Election season began, and as a politics major, I was excited to show my support for John Kasich. As soon as I placed the bumper sticker on my laptop and wore that bright red “Vote Republican” t-shirt, it became clear that as a Republican, I was not welcome at USF. Between snide remarks in the classroom and dirty glares, I felt even more unwelcome. I can remember sitting in class on the first day and overhearing a girl claiming that her family calls their dog a Republican when he’s behaving badly. I’ve also heard multiple students openly joke about killing Donald Trump.
Progressive CNN Commentator Van Jones and I agree on one thing: there is no value in being on a campus where different points of view cannot be shared and debated. After all, aren’t we here to learn to formulate our points of view and defend them?
My experiences have been the antithesis of what diversity stands for. I wish nothing more than for everyone who reads this to open their minds to understanding opposition. How can conflict ever be resolved if we can’t at least hear one another out?
Featured Photo: The University promotes diversity. However, some students feel this does not apply to their political values. (Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn)