Prior to my arrival at Grinnell, I was brought up on the basic principles of conservatism — I’m from a “Republican” family. For those of you who can (secretly) relate, Grinnell College can seem quite intimidating, right? After all, it is the college where more than 80 percent of students voted against Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, a candidate who repeatedly wins elections with at least 70 percent of the vote. Grinnell is a liberal bubble in the middle of the moderate political landscape of Iowa.
That’s why when I came here, I decided to keep my political affiliations to myself. I figured there was no sense in starting an argument where I would end up being completely outnumbered. The last thing I wanted to do was make enemies for myself. And I wasn’t really sure what I believed. Sure, my dad listened to Rush Limbaugh and watched Fox News, but what did I know about world politics and how much my beliefs were tied to those of my father and mother?
Less than five minutes after I unpacked my last box on move-in day of my first year here, another first-year from down the hall “outed” me as a Republican. We were introducing ourselves and saying where we were from when she, from out of nowhere, looks at me and says, “You — Bush or Kerry?” I just stood there. I had no intention of lying to anyone about my political affiliations, but I wasn’t expecting them to come up so soon. I went ahead and answered, “Bush?” and then subconsciously expected everyone to attack me and rip out my insides. But as you can see, I am still here, and many of the people who first heard me say “Bush” are still some of my closest friends today.
My initial plan to be discreet about my politics had been shot out the window. The result, however, has been anything but disastrous. After taking an active role in the Campus Republicans group, I’ve realized there are many others at this college who share some of my ideologies (including my roommate), but they thought they were the only ones as well. Grinnell prides itself on being an open-minded and accepting campus, and it is, for the most part. However, I do believe at times people forget that diversity of thought should also fit in here. Sometimes it is still a bit intimidating to speak your mind about politics when students and professors alike make it the norm to speak out against Republicanism.
However, I have found a haven in the Campus Republicans. Our members don’t really focus on endorsing candidates in local, state, and national elections. In reality, it would probably do the candidates more harm than good if we did, seeing as how Kerry carried more than 90 percent of the vote on campus. Instead, our primary goal is to create an environment where non-liberals can discuss politics and not feel threatened or silenced by the majority.
Looking back, I’m glad I have been open about my values and beliefs, since it has forced me to challenge them and make sure they are what I truly believe. And for the most part, Grinnell has been open to me and other conservatives on campus — except for the occasional liberal spy at our meetings and that shoe mark on my car where my Bush-Cheney bumper sticker once was.
Derek Bates '08 is an English major from Montezuma, Iowa.