Being the elephant in the room never used to faze me.
As a columnist for my campus newspaper, the Pitt News, I was accustomed to being the lone voice speaking for conservative principles amid bleeding-heart cries for “social justice.” I was also used to being demonized for my beliefs. Still, this past spring I accepted the paper’s offer to become an editor for the Opinions section.
My first day on the job, I realized that the editorial board thought of me as more than just the new editor; I was the Arab conservative. After several weeks of congregating with the editorial board, I started self-censoring my ideas so as not to offend anyone. I often found myself drowned out by my colleagues’ idealistic pleas to end gentrification or by their accusations of sexism.
Pretty soon I stopped giving my opinion on contentious issues out of fear of being judged a bigot or a right-wing nutjob. I even hid my laptop, which was covered with stickers celebrating William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan, free speech, and the Gadsden flag.
Despite my fears of being misjudged, I grew more concerned about my sudden self-doubt. I had considered myself steadfast in my beliefs, but my coworkers’ relentless attacks and judgments got to me. I was inundated with the Pitt News’s grievances about the GOP, the havoc that controversial Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos wreaked when he visited the Pitt campus, and other actions I was guilty of by association. My coworkers also challenged me on gay marriage, Planned Parenthood, and other issues. I began to question my own perspective. I would catch myself at dead ends of thought, with no place to go.
Looking back, I can see how easy it is for even principled conservative students to get swept up in the progressive tide on college campuses. It almost happened to me. I was vilified, caricatured, and ostracized. The way my coworkers reacted to me, I might as well have walked around the office draped in a Confederate flag.
But here’s the thing: ultimately I didn’t succumb to the leftist pressure. For weeks I endured frustration and self-doubt, but as I approached the end of my editorship, I reminded myself that I hadn’t embraced conservatism on a whim. Moving past progressivism’s superficial appeal, I had embraced conservative principles based on careful study of the issues and close reading of great conservative thinkers. So while I was at the Pitt News I threw myself into rereading giants like Nobel Prize–winning economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. The pillars of my conservative beliefs became sturdier, not weaker.
I embraced being an outcast and decided I could not falter. Although I did not particularly enjoy my time as an editor at the Pitt News, I am eternally grateful for the experience. It taught me about empathy and listening to other perspectives. It also taught me how to be a better conservative.
Marlo Safi is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. This summer she worked at Campus Reform as an ISI Collegiate Network–sponsored intern.