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Behind Enemy Lines

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 senior at the University of Pittsburgh and a former ISI Collegiate Network–sponsored intern at Campus Reform.

Complement with Alec Dent on the spirit of ideology over truth, Eric Metaxas on the rise of relativism at Yale, and John Zmirak's survival guide for religious college students


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