School

Part II: The Unspoken View: Conservatism at Thacher

Faculty and staff members at Thacher had a few theories when asked about what causes conservatives to be cast in the role of the “antagonistic other.” Assistant Director of Admissions Christopher Thomas stated that, “The “Thacher Bubble” serves as a liberal echo chamber at times, which only further alienates conservative students.” Mr. Okpalugo also seemed to support this theory of “liberal echo chambers”, commenting that, “I think one of the reasons that we have this isolation is that, although we have the Honor Code and all these ideals about kindness and truth, what ends up happening is that we smile at each other and don’t always speak openly–so as to avoid confrontation. . And then, we all just go back to our own echo chambers. We return to whatever feed we get on our phones or on Facebook, and the cycle of confirmation bias continues. You seek out and interpret information that confirms your pre-existing belief system.”

History teacher Whitney Livermore also supported this theory of self-reinforcing cycles of political stifling, offering that, “There are few people at Thacher who are willing or feel comfortable expressing conservative viewpoints. This creates a downward spiral: few people express these views, which leads to people feeling less comfortable expressing these views, which in turn contributes to further suppression of these ideas.”

Mr. Carney provided a fascinating explanation of why he feels conservatives are often marginalized at Thacher: “I think the community overall here is very liberal and supportive of various minority groups, and wants everyone to get a fair share. I think that perhaps because some students feel that conservatives are part of a group that has been a part of the power structure for some time, some students may think that it’s okay if conservatives feel alienated.”

Many conservative Thacher faculty and student members were dissatisfied with the treatment of conservatives at Thacher, raising claims of hypocrisy. Says one sophomore, “I have had many experiences where as soon as people hear something that is not what they agree with, they automatically refuse to listen to or discuss the issue. Thacher prides itself on being a very tolerant and diverse school, and I wish it had this tolerance and diversity in political beliefs, as well.”

The theme of Thacher supposedly hypocritically advocating for increased diversity, yet leaving conservative students in the minority was a sore spot for many students. One student remarked that, “The worst part about the plight of conservatives is that Thacher is a school, and a community that preaches tolerance, but this tolerance only seems to apply to people with comparable views.”

In addition to these cries of hypocrisy, one Thacher student observed that, “I think there is only one viewpoint on campus, and it would benefit everyone to hear opposing viewpoints, instead of ignoring and shutting down contradicting beliefs and ideas. This would help bring about the intellectually diverse environment that Thacher so desperately needs.”

Returning to the idea of the warped contemporary view of conservatives, Derick Perry offered his unique perspective, having both attended Thacher as a conservative student and now having worked as a conservative faculty member for many years. Perry said that, “I think the word conservative has had different connotations over time. When I was a young student, it meant somebody who supported Ronald Reagan. The term “conservative” didn’t have a lot of context outside of that political realm, meaning that if you were conservative, you were fiscally conservative, and you were probably, at least in California, socially moderate.”

Perry contrasted this with the current definition of conservatism, speculating that, “Today, I think the context has a lot more connotative meaning; I think often it’s perceived as being racist, xenophobic, as being against something as opposed to being for something. I think that’s the real challenge for some of our conservative students, how to articulate what you’re for.”

Mr. Carney also referenced the changing, evolving nature of conservatism observing that, “although Trump goes in now as a Republican president; I think that there are a lot of conservatives who aren’t necessarily sure that they want him in their party. That’s what I think does muddy the waters a little bit. I think it might be easier for conservatives to feel comfortable at Thacher, and for people to be more accepting of their views, if it was a different Republican president.”

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