Dear 100 Hour Board,
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one here who’s not extremely conservative. I consider myself a centrist Republican who’s fiscally conservative but socially liberal in some ways. For example, in my SFL class we read an article that totally made all these generalizations about gender roles (women are driven by emotions and PMS, men just want to have sex, etc.) Is it common to feel ideologically separate? I’ve always heard that there are a good number of different opinions at BYU, but I never seem to encounter anyone who breaks out of the mold.
Not Even #FeelTheBern Sympathizer But Feeling Singled Out
Well the good news is, you're not left of everyone on the Board. I mean, you're probably left of some of us, but not all of us.
But I do know what you mean. I don't think of myself as all that extreme, but I often feel like the most liberal person in the room. It can be frustrating, and it's easy to feel like you're the only one here who's not uber-conservative. I think all the very conservative people at BYU tend to believe that everyone on campus agrees with them, so they feel more comfortable voicing their opinions on certain subjects, whereas people whose political beliefs don't fit the perceived norm tend to stay more silent because they think no one will agree with them.
Personally, I've found the most success in finding like-minded people when I speak up about a more "liberal" topic when it comes up. I don't go around broadcasting my views from the tops of buildings all the time, but when there are organic ways to bring up my "unorthodox" political beliefs, I take them. So if there's a class discussion on a subject I'm passionate about, I'll make a comment. If there's a news story I'm really interested in, I'll tell my friends or roommates about it. If someone says something that I think is simplistic or ignorant, I'll call them out in a respectful way. And whenever I do things like that, I find people who agree with me. Really, the best way I've found like-minded people is when one of us has had the courage to say something the other person wanted to say but was too scared to. So going back to the article you had to read, did you say anything about in in your SFL class? It's entirely possible that other people in your class were feeling the same way you were, but no one said anything about it.
And in general, I think it's good practice to have deep conversations about important topics with people. You don't have to agree with them to respect their opinion, and it broadens your own worldview when you hear about someone else's. Having open and respectful political conversations with a variety of people will probably help you realize that you already know people from all over the political spectrum. And obviously not everyone at BYU even has political opinions, but I'm always surprised by how many of them do.
I think BYU makes a sort of negative feedback loop when it comes to talking about liberal ideas. We all assume that everyone else is extremely conservative, we're afraid of being branded as an outsider or heretic or radical if we speak our true feelings, thus very few people share their liberal beliefs, which just perpetuates the idea that everyone is extremely conservative. I've found that when I do share my liberal thoughts, people either respond with understanding (but not necessarily agreement) or wholehearted agreement (which leads into long discussions about said thoughts). I had the most incredible half-hour discussion with a classmate during a study group after she made a comment about supporting equal rights. If she hadn't spoken up, we never would have learned we shared the same beliefs.
If you have time, I highly suggest taking Introduction to Women's Studies. It's a fantastic class, and you'll meet wonderful people who will most likely share your beliefs. Get involved in clubs, on and off BYU campus. Speak up in your classes for your ideals. But first and foremost, be open with your friends, because you never know which of them are feeling ideologically separate as well.
-guppy of doom
Babalugats makes a good point below. That is, there are plenty of different types of people in Provo, you just have to look for them. I'm not sure how I managed it, but I have friends with a broad variety of ideological viewpoints. Even outside the Board (which, as Alta pointed out, is one of the more liberal spaces at BYU), I have friends who are libertarian like me, friends who supported Clinton for president last year (and not in a "anyone would be better than Trump" way), a few typical conservative Mormon friends, and quite a few in between. From what I've been able to tell, certain majors tend to attract people with certain ideologies, while other fields of study tend to bring in a more balanced group. Aside from the people in my own major, I have friends who are studying English, civil engineering, linguistics, psychology, math, and computer science. They're all really cool, and I met them all in my ward.
Dear Singled Out,
The Parable of the Two Travelers:
A man entered a village and went to the monastery on the edge of town, where he was welcomed by an old monk, the wise man of the village. The visitor said, “I am deciding whether I should move here or not. I’m wondering what kind of neighborhood this is. Can you tell me about the people here?”
The old monk said, “Tell me what kind of people lived where you came from.” The visitor said, “Oh, they were highway robbers, cheats and liars.” The monk said, “You know, those are exactly the same kinds of people who live here.” The visitor left the village and never came back.
Half an hour later, another man entered the village. He sought out the wise old man and said, “I’m thinking of moving here. Can you tell me what kind of people live here?” Again the monk said, “Tell me what kind of people lived where you came from.” The visitor said, “Oh, they were the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate, most loving people. I shall miss them terribly. The old monk said, “Those are exactly the kinds of people who live here, too.”
Your perception becomes your reality if you let it. The Provo Bubble isn't real. Sure minority/majority is real. But if you're proactive you will absolutely find your people. Find a club that promotes a social issue you care about. Volunteer somewhere. Holy goodness BYU students could definitely afford to volunteer somewhere OFF CAMPUS. Heaven forbid we interact with the non-members and impoverished of our town.
Sorry. I will get off my soapbox now and break it down so it stores properly. It's just when people complain about the homogenous culture at BYU but do nothing to get out into the city it makes me want to throw things. You're not necessarily doing that but maybe I am a little tilted over here.
P.S I collected this old folktale somewhere on my mission so I don't have a good source. Sorry about that there.
Dear Not Even,
If you want to read a fantastic talk by Elder Oaks on academic freedom and BYU, you can find it here. He said that even though faculty are required to avoid expression that seriously and adversely affects the mission of the church, we promote free speech, sharing ideas, and the search of real truth such that "academic freedom at BYU exceeds that at many colleges and universities that pretend to have unqualified academic freedom."
What does that have to do with politics? The church is non-partisan. Even though the culture in Utah is fairly Republican, the Church doesn't take sides. There's very little administrative pressure on the faculty to be conservative, or liberal, or whatever. I feel that is a contrast from many schools, where the pressure to teach liberal ideas is very high. BYU is not always ideal, but when it's working right, there can be an open discussion of a wide array of ideas, which is becoming more and more unique in this world.
Yes, the culture is quite conservative. But after a few years here, I feel like I'm actually more liberal than I was, and I feel it's because of BYU. Yeah, we're mostly all Mormon, but we're also all college students, which are usually a liberal bunch. Hopefully you can find some people who are open to listening to your ideas. Hopefully you can become comfortable with people who politely disagree with you. Hopefully you don't have too many run-ins with impolite people.
Best of luck!