Five students described what it’s like to be conservative in a bastion of American liberalism. Their answers were shortened and edited for clarity.
‘I have had drinks thrown on me’
Naweed Tahmas, 20, political science, Oceanside, Calif., external vice president of the Berkeley College Republicans
We are almost like an exhibit or zoo animals. Whenever someone finds out I’m a Republican at Berkeley, they pick my brain. People are genuinely curious. Nonetheless, their image of a white, male Republican is shattered when they see me. [Mr. Tahmas is of Persian descent.]
As a Republican on campus I am targeted frequently. I have been spit on on several occasions. I have had drinks thrown on me. I have been punched in the face.
When I was punched it was election night. I was not wearing Trump gear, but I was recognized. It was after Trump’s win. Two individuals came up and punched me in the face. This was my first semester at Berkeley.
For Republicans in the club, it’s all pro-Trump. I have yet to meet a member of the Berkeley College Republicans who is against Trump.
Right now the leadership of the club is passionate about fighting for conservative ideology.
There’s a program on campus called the undocumented student program that legally assists so-called undocumented students, which I find very unfair. Many of them get their tuition paid for, which is equally unfair. There are university-sanctioned rooms dedicated to them, and they have their own counselors.
There are so many diversity programs that are essentially draining the school budget.
People assume we are racist, we are xenophobic. They attach labels to us that are not true.
‘I believe in more limited social welfare programs’
Anastasia Pyrinis, 18, political science and economics, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
My very first day of class we were talking about our backgrounds in political science, and one student said, “We are all liberals in this class, right?” Most of the class was laughing or smiling, but I felt a little alienated. I kind of kept quiet.
I consider myself fiscally conservative and socially moderate. I believe in more limited social welfare programs, a flat tax rate.
I think when people find out that I’m conservative there’s an underlying tone or expression I get, like: “How could you be? You’re supposed to be a Berkeley enlightened student. How could you dare be a conservative?” It’s definitely something that puts distance between me and my peers, and I really don’t think it should.
It’s a minority on campus that is intolerant toward conservatives. But unfortunately those people scream loudest. I would say 95 percent of left-leaning people on campus are completely open to having a dialogue.
I took a class with Robert Reich [a secretary of labor in the Clinton administration and a professor of public policy] where he mentioned Donald Trump. A great majority of the class would start booing, and he said: “Wait a minute. This is a class where we are open to all political opinions. We can’t just boo.”
Professor Reich is extremely open to all political opinions. I found that very admirable.
‘Ann Coulter is definitely not the hill to die on’
Patrick Boldea, 19, economics and history, Kingsport, Tenn.
I’m from Tennessee, where I’m called a commie. At Berkeley I’m a right-wing reactionary who wants to bring back the patriarchy.
I’m a never-Trump Republican. I’m a moderate person.
You have a lot of professors who hold some very liberal views, and you can sometimes feel not necessarily marginalized, but like you’re being penalized when you express a more conservative view. Like in my sociology class, I wrote an essay on the good aspects of gentrification in San Francisco. I was very heavily criticized by my professor.
On campus, you feel like your viewpoint is not as valued. You feel somewhat uncomfortable, but it’s not unbearable or unmanageable.
Part of the reason Ann Coulter was invited is because the strategy of inviting these provocative speakers works. Fundamentally, what has happened to the Berkeley College Republicans since the Milo event? They’ve grown. They went from being just this kind of joke Republican — like “Berkeley Republicans, are you kidding me? At the most liberal school in the country, a Republican club?” — to being national news.
It works for them, it gets their voice out there, and they look tame in comparison to the leftists who attack them.
For me, Ann Coulter is definitely not the hill to die on. She has an image that’s been tainted by a lot of horrific statements. She was invited because she represents the voice of the president. You won’t find any hard-core intellectuals who do represent the president.
‘Free speech in this country is something very important to me’
Maria Konakova, 20, linguistics and business, Moscow
I’m a supporter of Reagonomics, of low taxes.
The fact that we have free speech in this country is something very important to me. It’s something that Russia right now does not have.
But I don’t agree with some of the things that Berkeley College Republicans do.
Some of their moves, like having an animal-rights barbecue, where the main food that is sold is meat, that doesn’t seem to me like a rational thing to do. It seems like it was inflammatory.
A lot of the speakers whom they invited were done just to elicit a reaction, to cause a negative outburst.
Ann Coulter was charging much more than any of our other speakers. I don’t argue that the cause of free speech is beneficial. But I don’t see a justification. I don’t think that she is prominent enough.
It would be much more beneficial to bring lower-profile speakers — having a conversation between two people of opposing views would be much better. That’s a better strategy than just causing outbursts. But, of course, I understand that politics is politics.
Berkeley has a lot of students who are liberal, but that does not mean in any way that the majority are aggressive and intolerant.
‘There’s this idea that speech is violent’
Jack Foley, 20, political science, San Rafael, Calif.
When I was leaving home, going to university, I really considered myself a die-hard centrist. When I got to college, I found myself drifting more and more to the right. There is this overwhelming and prevailing orthodoxy on campus — people don’t want to expose themselves to other viewpoints.
I’ve become more vocal in what I believe in since the whole Milo Yiannopoulos event. I really felt more driven to get out of my shell. I really wanted to challenge this prevailing orthodoxy that if you are Republican, you are racist; if you are conservative, you are sexist; if you fall on the right, you are a homophobe.
There’s this idea that speech is violent, that simply by espousing a view that you don’t like I am attacking you, I am oppressing you, I am assaulting you. That view is fundamentally incompatible with a Western, liberal democratic society.
I’ve got mixed feelings about inviting Ann Coulter. Is Ann Coulter the best representative of conservative thought? No, I would say not, but also at their meetings, I’ve been there and they invite people who are completely uncontroversial and nobody even knows that they were coming. So by inviting controversial folks like Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, David Horowitz, whoever, it’s a way to test the right to free speech that they should be entitled to for right or wrong.
Who decides who is too controversial? In my constitutional law class, my professor invited [the political scientist] Charles Murray to speak to the class. But the professor said: “Please don’t text your friends. I don’t want a protest around this.”