‘I Was Harassed Into Submission’: Being Conservative At CCSU


Kristina Vakhman

Some CCSU right-leaning students feel like they cannot speak freely on-campus.

Kristina Vakhman, News Editor

On a campus that boasts freedom of speech, right-leaning Central Connecticut students often feel left out.

“We really focus on diversity and inclusion and then we forget about the fact that we have conservative students on campus who don’t feel included,” sophomore Ally Clark said.

Last year, Clark, who describes herself as socially conservative and overall Libertarian, gained the kind of attention she didn’t want when she stood in support of Supreme Court Justice then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Deemed a “supporter of rapists” and eviscerated online, she felt “harassed into submission” by certain members of the Student Government Association and others.

“That was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. I was really glad I got to go and voice my opinion. Even though it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, at least I got to do it,” Clark said.

And when she wore a Trump shirt to a Pep Squad rehearsal, the e-board – respectfully, Clark noted – told her to not wear it again because it “offended” other members. But they wore shirts reflecting their beliefs, Clark said, so she quit.

“I thought that it was pretty biased that they said that. After I brought that point to them, they said that they would like everyone to refrain from wearing anything political or controversial, which I also thought was a little unfair because it’s just a rehearsal,” Clark recalled.

Clark still has her Trump shirt and wears it. She has a Gadsden flag hanging in her dorm room, too. She wants to have “reasonable discussions” with other CCSU students and participants at left-leaning rallies. And though she doesn’t feel comfortable expressing her views on-campus, she does it anyway.

Clark isn’t alone. Some CCSU students from the center- to the far-right of the political spectrum feel like they’re walking with duct tape over their mouths. Technology education junior Brandon Higley-Blair, whose views are in the middle and lean slightly conservative, is one such student, saying he feels discouraged from even starting political conversations with people outside of his circle of friends.

“Not everyone here is the most open and understanding that we have different opinions on how things work and it’s not the easiest thing to be open about,” Higley-Blair said. He’s voted for candidates with certain views he himself doesn’t agree with, but factors like economic growth confirmed his ballot. “Even though I support someone for [economic growth], their other stuff is what I’d be getting the attention for.”

When he talks with strangers, Higley-Blair is “cautious” and tries to stay as politically-neutral as possible so that no one has anything to confront him for.

“I don’t want to deal with that kind of repercussion,” he said. The backlash Clark received deters him further from speaking out or participating in events like the “Silent Rally” last month. “I just don’t wanna put myself in that situation.”

In a way, conservative students are facing an uphill battle at CCSU. Over half of Connecticut, from where most of the campus community comes from, voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, according to data from the Connecticut Secretary of the State. Democrats have also overwhelmingly swept both House and Senate races.

But even while holding left-leaning views, Higley-Blair and others like senior political science major Justin Boutin don’t see CCSU as entirely welcoming.

“They don’t like diversity of thought,” Boutin, vice president of the College Republicans, explained. An SGA senator, he cited his fellow student leader who labeled Clark a “rape apologist” online. “She went to that extreme just because what [Clark and other conservative students] were saying wasn’t what she believed. She should’ve never done that.”

Center-right, Boutin attends both College Republicans and College Democrats meetings. His friend group is mixed with individuals from across the political spectrum. To him, CCSU is a “generally safe” space to express his views; he’s even worn a shirt supporting former gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski on election night. But again, there is the sense the left is more accommodated.

“[Left-leaning students] seem to want to shut down opposing opinions,” Boutin said.

Another right-leaning student, who asked to remain anonymous, shared that sentiment, saying that he’s personally experienced being closed off from conservations.

“I used to be a lot more open about my views with people,” he elaborated. “But now more and more, I don’t think we’re going to get the best image. It’s not good for my social and mental health to even say, ‘Hey, I’m not all for open borders.'”

That’s understandable, senior Victor Constanza stated, as the CCSU campus is more progressive and liberal than not.

“You have to know the audience you’re talking to, man,” Constanza, president of the College Democrats and of local non-profit CHANGE that’s helped immigrants facing deportation, said. “It’s like me going to a really red area like Berlin and talking about immigration. I’ll get crucified there.”

In his view, CCSU does a “good job” lending platforms to both sides – it’s how either spectrum leverages that platform that makes or breaks the effectiveness. If he goes somewhere like Berlin to speak, Constanza keeps that in mind.

“I wouldn’t be afraid. However, I would know what the backlash is. That’s the difference,” Constanza said. “It’s up to me to handle that backlash and be able to retaliate. You can’t complain you did it in an area that does not agree with you.”

And senior history major Josh Quintana, who is moderate-left, reiterated the point that students on all sides need to step out of their comfort zones and “accept that maybe some people aren’t going to agree with you.”

“People who are outspoken get the attention,” Quintana said, also referencing the anti- and pro-Kavanaugh protests last semester. “If you asked regular students how they felt about it, I’m sure that a lot of them would say what Justice Kavanaugh did was wrong and inexcusable, but they also didn’t agree with both sides essentially yelling at each other and saying that the other one was wrong.”

Civil debate is encouraged at CCSU. The university even welcomed congressional then-candidates Jahana Hayes and Manny Santos to battle it out last year. But on this campus where left-leaning students feel empowered to stand together, the duct tape can sometimes be seen on the right, sealing it off.