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Can SCAD students have open political discussions?

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Written by Sam Bramlett, Illustration by Aleyna Moeller

Recently, District conducted a poll asking students where they fell on the political spectrum. Out of the 114 students that participated, 83 were Democrat and 31 were Republican.

According to a Gallup Poll from 2017, 42% of adults in Georgia identify as Democrat and 40% say they’re Republican. Even still, Republican Brian Kemp won out over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the governor election.

“People that know art know that everyone has a statement to make, some are political.”

Madelene Garding, first year Democrat

Possibly one-third of the student population is Republican, but some Republicans choose not to speak openly about their beliefs. Many might argue that the political culture at SCAD is against right-wing politics.

“It was Design one, and the topic of Trump came up, and everyone was just talking about how evil he was,” Lucas Gonzalez, first year Republican, said. “I said that I didn’t dislike him and that he wasn’t doing anything too horrible. When they heard that, the whole class, even the teacher, got really serious.”

“She [said] ‘excuse me?’ and I [said], ‘I don’t know, it’s just what I think.’ She asked me a lot of questions. But the main thing that got me was the ‘excuse me?’” Gonzalez said.

It is likely that many SCAD students interact with Republicans in class and don’t realize it. Many student Republicans still believe they cannot express themselves at a school where free expression is often championed. Since some experience open hostility to opposing views, constructive dialogue does not always occur.

“Most of the time politics don’t come up in class,” Madelene Garding, first year Democrat said. “Especially if you know your views are going to bring outrage. I think it’s dangerous to be a conservative here if you’re going to be rude about it. If you’re one of those conservatives that openly judges people, you’ll be looked down on.”

“The conservatives at SCAD are a lot more open than other conservatives,” Garding said. “Some conservative people I know are very against people being gay. However, conservatives here at SCAD say, ‘that’s OK! It’s just a part of who you are.’”

Conservative beliefs directly affect many people’s lives. From a woman’s right to choose, to protections for the LGBT community, to gun control and immigration, some liberal students react strongly against conservatism because its core ideals run counter to their lifestyles.

Aggression is a learned defense, and it perpetuates a cycle of spiraling negativity that prizes winning an argument over developing understanding. According to Kate Wood, a Master of Sociology from University of California, San Diego and Co-author of the book Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives, “there [is] this sense that being in an environment perceived to be overwhelmingly liberal is challenging, but in ways that [are] positive and beneficial. It [makes] them clarify values and ideas about different issues or about what being a conservative means.”

“There’s a big misconception that everyone who’s conservative wants to call you out about everything you’re doing wrong,” Lesley Cullman, third-year Republican student, said. “We all have different faults, and we’re all struggling with different things. Calling somebody out seems inappropriate. You also can’t play God and tell people what they can and can’t do, that’s not your place. I don’t want people to associate me with that.”

Some argue that the same students who express a desire for openness and understanding for all people in America also shun their Republican peers. Students who arrive at SCAD expecting everyone in Savannah to be as liberal as the University find out that Georgia is home to many conservatives. An understandable response to the feeling of estrangement as a liberal surrounded by conservatives is to push back and name-call or put-down, especially in the era of Trumpian combativeness.

“I opened up to my old roommate, and they didn’t take well to it,” a Republican student at SCAD who wished to remain anonymous said. “They said they were fine with it, but as we lived together they constantly berated me about being Republican. They thought I was racist and hated them and their sexuality, but I didn’t. It feels a little hypocritical, but understandable. There are people where I’m from who berate liberals for similarly dumb reasons.”

Some argue that the lack of visibility conservatives face at SCAD is compounded by the lack of any forum for political debate. “We’re an art school. We’re not political,” Garding said.

“I think they want us to stay in that zone. People that know art know that everyone has a statement to make, some are political,” Garding said. “Artists know that, but everyone else just sees artists’ work as something cool. If an artist were to speak up about politics others would [say] ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ”

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