My AP English teacher once told me that I would get beaten up at least once in college for telling people I was a Republican. She made the comment in the middle of class, laughing as she said it. I don’t think it was necessarily meant as an insult, but the memory has stuck with me ever since.
It’s a bit funny to think about now. Not only have I never gotten into a brawl surrounding politics (that would be a low point in anyone’s life I think), but a majority of my good friends at Duke are of the opposite political persuasion.
In fact, I haven’t just peacefully coexisted and debated the other side—I’ve actually experienced it. This past summer I worked for two organizations simultaneously. The first organization was the Romney campaign, where I acted as the student overseeing all of the Young Americans for Romney campus groups in North Carolina. The second organization, Friends of the Earth, I interned with for a short period of time in London. It’s as liberal as the name might lead you to believe. It was quite a dichotomous pairing.
Indeed, leading up to my internship at Friends of the Earth, I often got a reaction of incredulity when people heard of my plans. “Why on earth are you interning for them?” I heard quite frequently. There are a lot of reasons. It was in London, a city I wanted to experience. I wanted to learn more about environmental issues. The internship had an international relations focus, one of my areas of study. But another reason, quite frankly, was that I’m not scared to engage with people who think I’m wrong. In fact, I actually enjoy it and learn from it.
Being a Republican on this campus means you have the opportunity to be told you’re wrong a lot. That’s not a punch line, it’s the truth—I get told I’m wrong every day. To be clear, it doesn’t mean I am wrong—I’d definitely debate with you quite forcefully that I happen to be right. But it’s what comes with the territory if you want to engage in political discussion with a population consisting of a majority that disagrees with you.
Indeed, I actually sometimes feel bad for my Democratic friends for being robbed of this great opportunity to constantly be told they’re wrong. They are challenged certainly—I of course try to challenge them on their views. But I don’t think they’re challenged nearly as much as Duke Republicans. If Duke Republicans are told they’re wrong every day, Duke Democrats are told they’re right every day. There just aren’t as many people around to disagree with them.
And there are negative side effects to this. When you respectfully argue with someone who disagrees with you, you’re less likely to demonize his or her political affiliation later. In most cases, you realize they have reasons for what they believe. In most cases, you realize they have good intentions. And if you talk with enough members of their party, you realize they’re not all the same—that there’s no such thing as a cookie cutter Republican or Democrat. However easy it might be to attack the monolithic Republican or Democratic stereotype on Facebook or in rhetoric, you think twice about it when friends you respect carry the label and defy the stereotype.
At the end of the day, I think one of the greatest things that Duke does is create an atmosphere in which people can freely and vehemently tell each other how wrong they are. And I’m not just talking about politically, but in all walks of life. Greek system, house model, tailgate, campus culture, major choice, you name it—discussing these things, debating these issues, this is how you grow to learn what you believe, and why. One of the best things you can do as a student at this school is seek out people who will tell you you’re wrong. Whether you change your mind or come to more resolutely understand why you believe what you believe—it will benefit you.
So I’d like to end this column with a thank-you. Thank you, my liberal friends, for telling me I’m wrong. Thank you Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, Charles Blow and Frank Bruni of The New York Times. Thank you Friends of the Earth. And thank you to a majority of my fellow Chronicle columnists. I would still just as passionately as ever tell you I’m right. But you’ve made my Duke experience all the more enjoyable, and I hope I’ve done the same for yours. Let’s never be happier and less hesitant to tell each other how wrong we all are.
Daniel Strunk is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Thursday. You can follow Daniel on Twitter @danielfstrunk.