The Pitt News

Be the elephant in the room

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Maya Puskaric | Production Manager

Maya Puskaric | Production Manager

Maya Puskaric | Production Manager

By Marlo Safi | Senior Columnist

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Being the elephant in the room used to bother me.

As a conservative at Pitt, I assumed everyone was a liberal until proven otherwise so I could avoid the harassment, disciplinary action and discrimination by peers and campus administration that students around the country face when they don’t self-censor.

I would pretend to be a Marxist in the classroom along with casual acquaintances, and I would yearn for the opportunity to express my authentic beliefs with like-minded people.

That’s why when I was offered a generously paid summer internship with Campus Reform in Washington, D.C., a media outlet that covers liberal bias on college campuses and relays many of those stories to outlets such as Fox News, I was elated.

Not only would it embellish my resume when applying to law schools, but it would allow me to make a name for myself in the world of journalism while writing about free speech — a right I have dedicated my life to protecting. I would be assuming the same position as Kat Timpf, who is now a National Review columnist and makes regular appearances on FOX News.

The best part? I wouldn’t have to self-censor before making jokes in the office, I could share my Hillary memes in jest and I could even bring my concealed-carry weapon to work.

In the realm of summer internships, that was my idea of winning the lottery. After all, it has been my dream since reading my first Ayn Rand novel at the tender age of 16 to move to Washington and further the conservative cause. But after one month of writing about the evils of liberal professors and how colleges often censor and indoctrinate students, I found myself pining to return to Pitt.

Three weeks in, I realized echo chambers are no place for the educated to thrive in.

Perhaps the dissonance between my Marxist professors, socialist peers and me inspired me to seek out the great minds of conservatism and their works, and to be an individual with heretical beliefs on a campus that is rarely exposed to them.

I missed spirited debates with my fellow columnists at The Pitt News about the Second Amendment, where I found gratification in teaching someone who has never fired an AR-15 about the firearm and statistics showing the safe ownership of it across the country. With fellow conservatives, this is already common knowledge unworthy of further discussion.

I missed explaining to peers who passed me off as a nutjob that the Tea Party movement isn’t a radical group, and that it’s filled with disgruntled and disenchanted Americans like myself and thousands of others who are critical of not only President Obama’s failures, but former President George W. Bush’s as well.

Most of all, I missed learning from my Fourth Wave feminist friends and my anti-Israel friends about the nuances of social movements other conservatives may pass off as ridiculous or lunatic.

Being a conservative student at Pitt taught me to empathize with the people I disagreed with rather than taunt them — even when there are instances that are worthy of criticism and healthy ridicule.

More than ever, I had developed a devotion to protecting free speech because of these experiences. I became more appalled by the idea of censoring my peers who, while I may believe are misguided or haven’t done the requisite research on both sides of the issue, are championing somewhat radical and far-fetched ideas that I would fight to the death to protect.

The skills I am learning at my internship are indispensable, and it is certainly a nice change to be around people who are educated in the beliefs we share. I will never complain about being able to quote William F. Buckley or Edmund Burke in the office and having a coworker able to name them. I also learned that we do have a free speech crisis on our campuses, and students at hundreds of American schools are being censored, indoctrinated and deprived of their rights to expression.

I learned that it’s not normal for me to fear the University or my peers disciplining my friends and me for being conservative. Additionally, it’s not normal for my Syrian parents, who left Syria for the right to expression endowed to them in the United States, to fear for my life when I write or say something even slightly critical of Islam or the Black Lives Matter movement.

But the lessons I learned at Campus Reform can only be brought to fruition when fused with the lessons I learned at Pitt.

I am inspired, more than ever, to return to campus and have open-minded discussions about the beliefs and concerns of my peers. I realized that only by being the elephant in the room can I become a better conservative, and only by being amongst those who hold different viewpoints can I inspire those same people to better educate themselves on conservatism — molding a more educated populace that will enter the workforce with a more refined version of tolerance.

Anyone can be the Sarah Palins or the Mike Huckabees of conservatism without the slightest insight into the reasoning and justifications of the beliefs of the left. That doesn’t yield successful leaders, and it only contributes to the stalemates and partisanship we have become so accustomed to in contemporary American politics.

As we enter the new academic year Pitt has deemed the “Year of Diversity,” I implore my fellow Pitt students to encourage diversity not only in character, but in thought and opinion.

Fellow conservatives — go to a Students for Justice in Palestine meeting or read a column in The Pitt News about social justice with the sincerest intentions of understanding their perspective. Liberals — attend a Pitt College Republicans meeting and listen to their opinions that the school and media frequently pervert, or question the professor who makes snide remarks toward Evangelical Christians and Second Amendment proponents in class.

Listen to opinions and respond in a civil manner with fact. Don’t let emotions dominate discussion. Purge ad hominem as an argument tool.

Be the elephant in the room.

Marlo Safi is a Senior Columnist for The Pitt News. She primarily writes about public policy and politics for The Pitt News.

Write to Marlo at mes26@pitt.edu

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Be the elephant in the room