As a conservative on Grounds, I learned pretty quickly my first year that the majority of the University community disagrees with me on a lot of different issues. Growing up in New York, I had always been used to differing opinions, but when I got to Grounds, it was at first very intimidating. Back then, the College Republicans, a group I would become an active member of for the next four years, was simply a handful of people who would meet in a room and talk about politics, occasionally inviting a speaker or traveling to a nearby county to campaign. There were few attempts to take our opinions, as unpopular as they were, and present them to the University community. Engaging the University community with arguments that they would most likely disagree with seemed like it would be difficult, inefficient and create a lot of backlash. In a sense, it would have been all of these things, but I soon learned that not only was this worth doing, but it was necessary.
The catalyst leading to my realization of this was an opportunity I had my first semester to intern on Jeb Bush’s campaign for president. While the job itself required mostly calling Republicans in New Hampshire — and knocking doors over winter break — I was also quite active about promoting Bush on my social media, which let my friends know that I was, against the odds, a Republican at U.Va. This resulted in many people coming up to me in private to reveal that they too were a conservative on Grounds, and also had their favorite candidate in the Republican primary for president. But they would always add that they didn’t want to talk about it publicly, or “out” themselves as conservative because it seemed as if they were the only one at the University.
Over the next three and a half years, I have participated in many debates and forums and have written opinion pieces for many great organizations, including most recently The Cavalier Daily. What I have learned is that while it is really easy to promote an opinion that everyone agrees with, everyone would benefit more if I can make a good argument for an opinion that fewer people will agree with.
Let me be clear, these should not be “hot takes” or attempts to “own the libs” which are petty and stupid. I learned that if you have an unpopular opinion, you should attempt to present it in a respectful, well researched and professional manner — and you should be willing to defend it furiously. Finally, you need to prepare yourself for the absolute mountain of pushback you will receive, much of it extremely negative and targeted not just at your ideas, but at you as a person.
This is not easy, but at the end of the day, I learned that it was really was necessary for me to put these unpopular opinions out there. As someone who has dedicated a lot of time to advancing the conservative movement, I felt as if I couldn’t avoid talking about certain topics just because I knew they may not get the best reception from some of my peers. If no one would continue to talk about them, the status quo would prevail, no one would even have to consider changing their current opinion, and those who silently agreed with me would continue to keep their beliefs to themselves. If I believed in something strongly enough, I came to the conclusion that it was my responsibility to take a stand and present my argument to the University community as well as I possibly could.
As I leave the University as a fourth year, I have no illusions that some of my more unpopular opinion pieces completely turned around the public discourse at the University. Many of these opinions still remain very unpopular today. But looking back at them, I am still glad that I took these leaps of faith because I know that I at least made many people consider, if for just a second, that an alternative opinion exits. And I also showed others who are in the minority and agree with me that someone was willing to talk about the issue in public, urging them to do the same.
So in short, if you believe in your ideology strongly enough, and want others to do the same, shout your unpopular opinions as loudly — and respectfully — as you possibly can. If others try to silence you, kick it up a notch so you can make sure they hear you. If they drown you with negative facebook comments personally attacking you, thank them for reading your article because you know that you are exposing them to another viewpoint. We live in a democracy that allows you the privilege of disagreeing with others and being able to publicly do so. No one benefits when our University community is an echo chamber.
Adam Kimelman was an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily.