FEATURES: The Republican Club on what it’s like to be conservative at East. By Yoni Manor and Leo Kamin.
As political polarization sweeps the country’s colleges, workplaces and capital, East High School remains decidedly one-sided. According to senior Austin Barish, the leader of East’s Republican Club, “I think the political climate at East… as you saw with the march to the capitol, I’d say is 95 percent unified on politics — and that 5 percent group of kids who have different political opinions is kind of why the club was created.”
While the club’s unifying beliefs generally fall more to the right of the political spectrum, there are often students with the exact opposite views who come to the club. Barish explains that, “There’s definitely differences in what we believe…some kids in the club (including myself) are definitely not Trump supporters, and others are bigger fans of Trump.”
Sophomore Jackson Howes, a member of the club, explains that, “After the Caesar Chavez assembly and after we were on Angels on Air, we had quite a few kids come in…with extraordinarily different viewpoints. Where that kind of meeting goes is, we have a civil debate about whatever the issue is.”
A safe place like this seems especially important in a school as politically one-sided as East. Howes describes the club as, “a forum for people who are otherwise silenced in their political beliefs,” and somewhere for students “to talk openly with people who disagree with them in a place where they won’t be ostracized… for their beliefs.”
The club has gained significant traction since its official founding last year but has also experienced some considerable backlash.
Although no one has personally confronted him, Barish explains, “We have gotten negative responses, our posters get ripped down routinely. There was a moment last year when we had one of our posters up, and there was a Young Democrats Club poster right next to it. It was a very stark difference, because their poster was untouched. Ours got ripped entirely down with like the exception of the very top.”
This sort of perceived backlash has led many members of the club to feel hesitant to reveal themselves as members. When the Republican Club was featured on Angels on Air last school year, Barish said that he and Jackson Howes were “the only two kids who were actually willing to be on it, because students were concerned about the backlash they’d face for… having the whole school know [they were in the club].”
A FAIRLY HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT FOR CONSERVATIVES
Barish and Howes’ concerns echo a larger issue: that as a conservative student at East, it is often hard to voice your opinion.
Isabella Sanchez, a vocal Democrat who is starting her own club this year that focuses on gun reform says, “I would say that the majority of students agree with my views… because I believe a lot of students did the walkout.”
“When I speak, I can typically get four hands to come up that will disagree with me pretty fast.”
Sanchez states that at East, her political views have changed, “I’ve gotten more involved, but they haven’t changed to a different side.” She muses that if she went to a less liberal school, she might be less willing to express her beliefs.
In the classroom Barish finds that while he is willing to be vocal about his opinions, not all students are as assertive. He states, “When I speak, I can typically get four hands to come up that will disagree with me pretty fast. But I’ve definitely spoken to kids who after class, will come up and say, ‘Yeah I was thinking something similar…but I really didn’t want to speak up in class because my English teacher like, very clearly believes this.’”
These stories describe a school culture in which it is usually easy to express liberal views, but much harder to be outwardly conservative. It seems that some conservative-minded people at East are hesitant to voice their opinion at a liberal school, because they anticipate backlash and being treated differently.
However, Barish also reflects, “I think most kids fear being treated differently, and I’d say that fear is somewhat unfounded.” Barish suggests that although East’s political breakdown is largely liberal, it is not as hostile to conservatives as they might believe.
“I think most kids fear being treated differently, and I’d say that fear is somewhat unfounded.”
Still, the fact that a majority of Republicans are scared to voice their opinion – or even be publically connected to conservative ideas – presents a real concern.
Are faculty and students potentially fostering an environment where students are too intimidated to voice their true opinion in the classroom? Besides the teachers, Republican students are somewhat scared of being identified as Republican in front of the entire school – or even just with their friends and classmates.
Perhaps this is merely a direct result of the staggering liberal majority at East, which reflects the liberal bent in the City and County of Denver. Looking on the bright side, even vocal Republicans like Howes and Barish believe the political climate at East is not as hostile as hesitant students may believe, giving a hopeful outlook for East’s political climate in the future to come.