Five students share personal narratives about identifying as a conservative on a predominantly liberal campus. Left to Right: Jordan Lozano, Lincoln Miller, Madison Wagner and Chris Tibbetts. Not pictured: Madison Murphy.
As part of the Multi-institutional Study of Leadership surveys that UP participated in from 2015 through 2018, students were asked to identify their political views. According to the campus-wide surveys, the percentage of UP students who self-identify as conservative decreased from 15 percent to 11 percent between 2015 (1,617 responses) and 2018 (1,878 responses). The percentage of students who identify as very conservative remained the same at 2 percent.
The data shows that the percentage of students at UP who identify as liberal has gone up significantly from 34 percent to 42 percent over that same three-year period. The survey also shows that the percentage of students who identify as very liberal has gone up from 10 percent to 13 percent.
The majority of students at UP define themselves as liberal or very liberal. But what if among the students who laugh at a professors’ digs at Trump, there are students who laugh along uncomfortably, worried that if they don’t, their peers and professor will judge them?
That is a reality for some of the 11 percent of the student body who identify as conservative and the 2 percent as very conservative.
After The Beacon requested interviews from multiple students who identify as conservative on campus, there were many students who declined to share their story because of how they thought other students would treat them and how their professors would view them.
Some of these students have even gone to such lengths as to lie on assignments to sound “more liberal” due to concern that a professor might grade them differently based on their political views. Some don’t feel like they can share their opinions in class without being judged harshly.
These are the stories and beliefs of five students who identify as conservative on campus.
Madison Wagner, a junior nursing major, grew up on a ranch in a small town in eastern Washington near Yakima. She said her upbringing is one of the foundations for her political views.
She considers herself a Libertarian and is liberal on most social issues. Wagner said she has become more liberal during her time in Portland.
Wagner also said she considers herself to be “very left” on many issues, but when people hear that she typically votes Republican, they immediately jump to conclusions.
“Unfortunately, I think a lot of people, especially in our generation, hear the word Republican and they think ‘You are a terrible person,’” Wagner said. “I’ve had people say that to me before. Like ‘Oh you’re conservative? You’re an asshole.’ Or when they think you are a Republican on everything. And that is so not the case.”
She said she wishes people understood that being conservative doesn’t always mean having conservative views on every issue. She said making people identify one way or the other doesn’t make things clear, and that being somewhere in between left and right is where a lot of people stand.
“I knew coming here (to Portland) that I would be in the minority, and that’s fine,” she said. “I mostly just keep my political views to myself because people don’t understand it, and I don’t want to have to explain it. I don’t think I should have to explain myself.”
Wagner said that conservatives can be thought of as less open-minded than liberals, but in reality, she has found that both sides can be close-minded.
Even in the classroom, Wagner often fears the possible backlash to her political views. She says she has lied on assignments to make herself sound more liberal than she is. She worries that sounding “too conservative” might affect her relationship with the professor and even her grade.
“I was in a political science class the fall of my freshman year, and you had to break down and analyze any of the candidates’ economic plan and then say if we support it or not,” she said. “It was very clear that my professor was very liberal, so I specifically said that I supported Hillary Clinton’s economic plan. And it was all a lie.”
Wagner said even though her close friends know her political views, in classrooms she often puts on a face because she doesn’t want to be judged for them. She said it isn’t that she would say anything that would offend people, but rather the connotations associated with the word “conservative” that make her nervous.
Another issue Wagner deals with is differentiating “conservative” from “Trump supporter.”
“I wouldn’t consider myself a Trump supporter at all,” she said. “People think ‘You’re conservative, you love Trump.’ I have so many friends who are conservative and hate Trump.”
Wagner said that in 2016 she didn’t like either candidate, so she didn’t vote. She now wishes that she had written someone in.
One of the issues that often divides left and right is gun control. Wagner’s views on the issue fall somewhere in the middle. Wagner grew up around guns, but she believes in light of recent mass shootings, there should to be some limits on gun ownership.
“I’ve shot guns my whole life, but I think there is definitely an issue,” she said. “I don’t know how to fix the problem because people like my parents, who are complete law-abiding citizens, have guns for self-defense, and I don’t think that should be taken away. But then you have people just going out and shooting people, and it’s atrocious and something needs to happen about it. That’s where the line is.”
Wagner is fiscally conservative. Her dad owns a small business that has been passed down for four generations, which has influenced her economic beliefs. She grew up on a farm surrounded by hard-working people in Yakima, Washington, which she described as pretty conservative.
Despite her parents' influence, she has come to some of her own conclusions on certain political issues. Wagner said there are social issues they don’t agree on.
“I’ve definitely had to stand up to my parents a few times,” she said.
Unlike some other conservatives whose faith is the backbone to their political beliefs, Wagner says that her Catholic identity does not sway her political views.
“I’m a Catholic, but that doesn’t stop me from being pro LGBTQ+ rights, being pro-choice,” she said. “That doesn’t stop me from those things.”
Wagner said that before the interview, she talked to her housemates, and they told her how glad they were she was speaking up because there are so many people like her on campus who don’t.
“I would say all of my friends are the same way as me,” she said. “They are very, very socially liberal, but then definitely more conservative.”
Wagner hopes people will ask more questions and make fewer assumptions about conservative students, and to realize that conservative does not equate to supporting Trump.
“I think there are so many people who feel this way, and it is hard to articulate it,” she said.
Gun control is a big issue for freshman Lincoln Miller. He strongly opposes gun reform. This stance comes from his unique upbringing.
For his first nine years, Miller lived in a socialist country. His parents were missionaries in Ukraine and he credits his childhood there and his faith for shaping him politically. During his childhood, Ukraine went through political upheaval after its recent independence from Russia in the early 90s. But even after its independence, corruption and violence were prevalent and the people struggled immensely during this time.
Miller said that what he learned from the history of Ukraine is that “a disarmed people is a helpless people” and that was one of the foundations of his stance on gun control.
“(The right to have guns) is a check on the government, it’s a check on foreign invasion,” Miller said. “One Japanese general said ‘the problem with invading America is that there is a gun behind every blade of grass.’”
Miller, a member of Army ROTC, said he doesn’t believe freedom makes us safe and he sees the good firearms can have.
“While bad people with guns can do a lot of harm, good people with guns can stop a lot of harm,” he said. “You can’t legislate evil… people are doing their evil no matter what.”
Growing up with a conservative family, he said during his early years that was all he knew and it wasn’t until his teen years when he began to have conversations with his parents and cement ideas as his own.
“On certain issues, I’d say I’m more liberal than my parents but for the most part I’m fairly similar to them,” he said.
Miller said that he and his parents gain a lot of their views based off of their religion, he said the moral and ethical dilemmas can be tricky. Even on a Catholic campus, Miller says he definitely feels like a minority as far as politics are concerned.
“On most issues we’re different,” Miller said. “On the issues, people talk about more. I would say that I’m on a different side than a lot of people.”
Despite this, Miller said he hasn’t felt hostility from his peers like that of his sister who has similar political views and attends Willamette University.
“I know she has had some almost horror stories of the way she felt attacked and was treated by the people around her and I have not felt attacked or treated that way at all,” he said. “I think the Catholic background (at UP) is a part of it, it keeps it all in check. Everyone’s fairly respectful of different political views.”
Miller isn’t afraid of confrontation, but there haven’t been many times where he felt it was appropriate to discuss his political opinion. He said there have been a few times where a political topic was brought up and he could sense that there likely wasn’t anyone else in the room who shared the same views as he did.
This year there have been times when Miller has shared his beliefs with peers, but he said he tries to do it respectfully and tries to not shove his opinion on them since he wouldn’t like someone else to do that to him.
“I would not vote against my conscience, and I’m never going to make someone vote against their conscience,” he said. “I try to use facts and if I can’t present you with an argument and data I’m not going to keep trying.”
Miller said that he appreciates the respectfulness of most UP students in regards to political views. He does wish that there was a bit more understanding.
“There is an assumption that people think the way they do,” he said. “If people were willing to accept that there are differing views on campus, that would be kind of nice.”
The grandson of Mexican immigrants, freshman Jordan Lozano said since moving to Portland he has found himself being a lot angrier than he used to be.
Lozano has moved around a lot in his life. He’s called Texas, New York, Alabama and Washington home. He was born in Texas and lived there the longest so he claims that one to be the most like home. His dad is in the military so moving often was part of his life. Through the moves and the changes, one thing that has stayed the same is Lozano’s strong conservative beliefs.
“Growing up in the military and growing up in Texas, those two backgrounds together are two of the most conservative backgrounds you could have,” he said with a laugh. “(My family and I) are pretty old-school. I strongly believe in what we believe. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Lozano said that the transition to Portland has been interesting and navigating the move from conservative places to a much more liberal one has been an adjustment. He finds the way some liberal people talk to be frustrating.
He said there was a while where he wondered what it would be like to go to a more conservative school early in his first semester when he really didn’t like UP. But he has realized that maybe it is better for him to be at a more liberal university because it challenges him to “keep cool” and has strengthened his beliefs.
Despite having a viewpoint that is in the minority, it doesn’t bother Lozano too much. He has found a few people like him in Army ROTC.
“I’ve found a good amount of other conservatives here as well. Most of them are also in ROTC,” Lozano said.
For Lozano, though he has a solid group of conservative friends, he said his girlfriend is liberal. This has been tricky for Lozano at times. Politics come up occasionally between them. They have disagreed on issues related to feminism. But when they disagree, he said they get over it pretty quickly. But there are some areas that they agree on, like opposing legalized abortion.
Lozano said he hears about feminism often on UP’s campus and finds these conversations frustrating.
“Nowadays feminism seems like it’s women over men versus equal,” he said. “Personally, I see both men and women as equal now so I don’t really get what they’re fighting for as much as they were, say 70 years ago.”
He said that he can see some areas where maybe things aren’t completely equal but doesn’t see too big of an issue.
“It’s not a pay gap,” he said. “There’s an earnings gap. There’s not as many women working as men. A lot of women opt to be housewives or work from home… Yeah, women earn less, but in regards to being paid less, I don’t know.”
Lozano is also frustrated about the way some people talk about President Trump. Lozano was not old enough to vote in the 2016 election, but he says that he respects Trump.
“I mean I get it, he wasn’t my first pick either, but the president’s the president,“ he said. “He’s the leader of our country, and you have to respect that. You don’t have to like your boss as long as you listen, right?”
He said this mentality comes from growing up in a military family where structure and leadership is important. He said patriotism is a necessary part of being in the military and he extends that into his political views. Lozano was taught “respect the rank, not the man.”
Lozano said he struggles with the way people talk about Trump because he thinks it is bad for the country overall.
“I have problems with people trying to talk down the President because we don’t need that,” he said. “As a country, we do not need problems like that… Personally, if you have problems with this country or have the indecency to burn the flag then get out. You don’t belong in this country. If you don’t like what we stand for, then why are you here?”
Being a third generation Mexican, Lozano is faced with some dilemmas with navigating his heritage and his political views, especially in today’s political climate where immigration can be a divisive subject.
“(Both sides of) my family came illegally as well, but we didn’t sit there and complain,” he said. “We got to work. We worked the field. We earned our way into this country. We joined the military.”
Lozano said that it is the few with bad intentions who ruin it for everyone.
“Some people are genuinely trying to come here and make a better life for themselves and it is a little harder for them,” he said. “Then you have other people who come here and want a better life but they don’t do anything. They come here and they expect America to take care of them and not really give back.”
But Lozano doesn’t think building a wall is the answer. He thinks people are going to find other ways to come to the U.S.
When asked how he feels about the rhetoric Trump has used when talking about Mexicans, Lozano said it doesn’t bother him very much because he believes he is “as American as it gets.”
Lozano believes some of his ideology comes from his Mexican heritage, which he said is very traditional in the sense that men went to work and women took care of the home. His family’s strong Catholic identity also plays into his beliefs on many issues including abortion.
“I don’t believe in abortion or the death penalty because the way I see it is we’re humans,” he said. “We’re not allowed to play God. We’re not allowed to choose who lives and who dies.”
Lozano said even the situations people bring up as reasons for choosing to have an abortion, such as sexual assault, still don’t justify it.
“I get it,” he said. “A lot of people bring up being raped or not being able to afford (a baby). The way I see it if you can’t afford it you shouldn’t be having sex. If you’re raped, I know it’s really tough and a big burden on the mother, but I feel like you should not punish the child based on something that happened to you. At that point, I feel like it’s kind of selfish to take that life because you are thinking more about yourself… That baby could be the next Einstein or something like that, and you just took that away from them.”
Lozano added that if one of his two younger sisters were ever raped he would “beat his ass,” but then encourage his sister to keep the baby.
Apart from social issues, Lozano said growing up around guns and pursuing a career where his job is to serve and protect, safety is important to him. But he doesn’t think taking people’s guns away is the answer.
“People are going to hurt people if they really have that intention,” he said. “If they have that much hate in them to do something like that, they are going to do it regardless of if they have a gun or not. I want this country to be as safe as possible but at the same time that’s hard.”
Unlike some of the other students interviewed, Lozano said if something is brought up, he is not afraid to voice his opinion. However, last semester he had a theology professor who was very liberal, so he chose not to bring up his views out of respect for the professor.
Lozano said he has gone as far as adding his opinion as he walked by a group of students touring the campus.
“One of the tour guides was talking about feminism and I kind of interjected,” he said. “It wasn’t really my place but I was like ‘kids don’t believe in that.’”
As far as the way he sees liberals, he said if someone is open-minded they are still figuring themselves out and can be easily swayed. He said that believing in something strongly gives people structure.
“I see (liberals) as weak because so many people that are liberal are complainers,” he said. “All they do is complain. It’s over little things too… I was at this Active Minds thing and they were talking about the (Red Mass) protest and there was a kid in there who organized the whole thing and he was like ‘I was so under-appreciated by the university’ and I was like, ‘Okay, you think the university is going to appreciate you undermining them?’ It’s little things like that.”
He said a lot of people have the misconception that conservatives are jerks because conservatives tend to be direct when they disagree with something.
“We’ll say what’s on our mind. We’ll tell you how it is and that’s that,” he said.
He said that even though he has the same beliefs as some of the more outspoken conservative voices, he thinks some could tone it down a notch from time to time.
As for what he wants his fellow Pilots to know?
“We’re not necessarily your enemies,” he said. “I get it we both have different views and they are pretty conflicting views. But we can just as easily be a friend.”
With a large cross hanging from a necklace around his neck, it’s apparent that religion is an important part of sophomore communication major Christopher Tibbitts’ life. But it wasn’t always that way for him.
Tibbitts grew up in the Catholic Church, but in middle school went through a dark period and lost his faith in God. From eighth grade through his first two years of high school, Tibbitts was an atheist.
Tibbitts said during his period of atheism he hit rock bottom. It was going back to Christ his junior year that saved him, he said.
“I was contemplating suicide,” he said. “It was bad. I almost got expelled because I bullied kids. I caused them physical harm. I hated everybody. I hated the world.”
What got him out of that dark place was his mom convincing him to go to a church retreat with his sisters. He said his mom had to force him to go but once he got there God spoke to him and told him he could help him.
Tibbitts said once he trusted in God again, his life got better. At UP, he become involved in Campus Ministry.
He said a big part of his political identity comes from his Catholic identity what he considers a “morality standpoint,” especially when it comes to issues like abortion.
Tibbitts said that his political beliefs developed as he grew in his faith. He grew up in a moderately conservative family in San Diego, but as he got older, his beliefs became even more conservative than his family’s. He considers himself to be “very right-wing conservative.”
Being far-right at a predominately left university has presented some challenges for Tibbitts both in and out of the classroom.
“I basically haven’t been able to say anything towards my beliefs in two years here,” he said. “And I’m not kidding. I’m not exaggerating.”
Tibbitts said that a few times when he has tried to share his beliefs in class, professors have told him to “shut up.”
In a public speaking class his freshman year, he said his professor got on his chair, pointed and yelled at Tibbitts when Tibbitts said he disagreed with the way the professor blamed global warming on “dirty Republicans.”
“I ducked out to get more coffee,” he said.
Tibbitts said he kept his mouth shut about his political beliefs for the rest of his freshman year after that situation. But sophomore year he had a couple more uncomfortable moments in classes.
“I’m kind of gagged if you know what I mean because the liberal students here are able to say everything that they want to because they are in the majority,” Tibbitts said. “But for me who’s in the minority, if I try to say anything, I will face instant backlash. They don’t even let me finish my sentence.”
Tibbitts is a member of Army ROTC and said most of his friends share similar political views. With the few who differ, they keep politics out of the conversation.
Tibbitts gets the sense that conservatives on campus are not well liked and that when people find out that someone is conservative they get angry. He said if people with differing views even ask for his opinion, they usually don’t let him finish.
Tibbitts has seriously considered transferring to a less liberal university but ultimately decided that all colleges would be pretty liberal. It is just a matter of how much.
“I feel like (if I transferred) I would be able to have true debates in class instead of just one-sided,” he said. “The debates here aren’t much of a debate because the people on the left keep shutting me up.”
Tibbitts said when it comes to dealing with those hot-button issues, he states his beliefs and leaves it at that. Tibbitts doesn’t keep up with the news since he finds it all very negative. He hears about current events surrounding political issues only if other people bring it up.
“There were a couple times, for instance in the shootings, that happened a couple months back, where I didn’t know about them until a friend of mine said ‘Oh yeah, it’s just like those shootings that happened on the news,”’ he said. “Then I pull out my phone to Google it, and I’m like ‘Oh that happened.’ I’m usually behind the news… I’m not that type of guy that’s actively following the news.”
Tibbitts wishes people would stop throwing around certain words in connection with conservatives.
“People throw around the word racist too much. Too much,” he said. “Even when it doesn’t have any bearing on the subject at hand and I would tell people just because I’m conservative doesn’t mean that I hate people. I get a lot of people who think that.”
He said he tries to be a good example of someone who “loves everybody and who is positive.” He wants to be the person to change the face of conservatism and some of the misconceptions around what it means to be conservative.
Junior nursing major Madison Murphy grew up in a farming community in California’s central valley. Her father was a police officer for over two decades. Her relatives owned almond farms. She participated in Future Farmers of America in high school. And she’s had many family members in the military.
She refers to herself as “modernized conservative.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m liberal on social stuff,” she said. “But I don’t care as much as the extreme right-siders. Do what you want. It doesn’t affect me.”
Murphy has strong beliefs about the military and the size of government. She believes the military is important for protecting U.S. rights and should be respected and funded. She also thinks the government shouldn’t be able to dictate everything people do and should be kept small.
Despite her conservative upbringing, she said her views have changed a bit during her time at UP.
“Both my parents are conservative, and they have played a huge role in what I believe in politically,” she said. “There’s definitely areas where I kind of stray from. Now that I’ve started nursing school, I’ve come to believe more that everyone should get healthcare because it’s so important.”
Along with healthcare, Murphy said seeing the women’s marches her freshman year was really powerful. Murphy went to a high school “without a lot of girl power.”
Like some of the other students interviewed, Murphy said being Catholic does play a small role in her beliefs. But it does not influence her view on some of the bigger social issues, including abortion. Murphy describes herself as pro-choice.
The 2016 election season was difficult for Murphy.
“I voted for Donald Trump, and I support and agree with his ideology. But personally, I think he is a not great person,” she said. “I like his ideas about military and small government and decreasing the unemployment rate. But the choices of words he uses I don’t agree with.”
Being conservative at a predominately moderate to liberal campus has presented some challenges for Murphy. She thinks people assume she has liberal views because she is a college-aged woman. On the flip side, when people make assumptions about her character based on her conservative identity, it is also frustrating.
Right after the 2016 election, during Murphy’s freshman year, she remembers a few instances of tension or awkwardness.
“I had gone into one of my classes, and my professor looked at me and he said ‘So I would assume you’re pretty bummed with how the election came out,’ and I was kind of taken aback,” she said. “I’d never heard a teacher do that before. I thought that was a perfect time for me to stand up for myself and voice my opinion. I said ‘No I’m actually pretty glad with how it turned out. It went in the way that I voted.’ And he was very surprised.”
Murphy said many of her professors make their political views known, and this doesn’t typically bother her. But she often feels that because the tense political climate makes everything a bigger deal.
When political things come up in class, Murphy usually keeps her ideas to herself because she knows she is in the minority.
“In a classroom setting, I really don’t feel like I can voice my opinion,” she said. “Because people who do disagree with Donald Trump, strongly disagree with Donald Trump. Even if he is saying things that technically make sense, they’re not really hearing the plain words in it. They are just hearing ‘I’m Donald Trump and I’m terrible.’ So it’s hard to disagree with people in class and not get into a heated argument.”
Murphy said people often lump her into a group with all conservatives, even the extreme right. She said it is difficult to be grouped with people who she doesn’t agree with. There is a lot she wishes other students on campus would understand.
“The most frustrating part is sitting in class while people are having a discussion with liberal views and just feeling like you’re about to burst because you want to add to the conversation,” she said. “I feel like as soon as I said something like ‘I support the military or small government’ there’s going to be 27 hands that shoot up to tell me that I’m wrong.”
Delaney Vetter is the opinions editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.