“WE ARE A WELCOMING COMMUNITY. DURHAM, NH,” is displayed on signs all across the town, in an effort to make people feel that they are in a welcoming, accepting community. For the most part, I would agree that I live in a community that is supportive, welcoming, and respectful of all people. However, there seems to be an exception when it comes to those with different political views.
For us students at ORHS who identify as conservative, Republican, or right-leaning, we often hide our beliefs due to the fear that we won’t feel accepted. Many students who do decide to share their opinions are put in uncomfortable situations and are often stereotyped and called “racists, homophobes, sexists, etc.” when in reality, those are false stereotypes. The Oyster River community needs to do a better job of accepting people of all opinions. The fact that I was even nervous to write this article is an example of how difficult it is to have minority political opinions in this community. Throughout high school, I’ve had to hide many of my opinions because I’ve wanted to fit in, and not feel hated.
Personally, I’m not that far right leaning. I support the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ+ community, and I believe in climate change—most of us Republicans do—but when I express support for the Republican party, people assume I don’t have those views. However, when it comes to other political issues such as healthcare, border control, the minimum wage, etc., I tend to have more conservative opinions. When I have had political discussions with people in the school, I often notice that we recognize the same problems, we just have different opinions on how to solve it. These problems are nothing new. An MOR article in 2017 named “The Elephants in the Room,” written by Spencer Clark, harped on similar issues following the 2016 presidential election.
The basic core values of the Republican Party in the 21st century include lower taxes, free-market capitalism, strong borders, and increased military spending. False stereotypes sometimes shadow these core values. Stereotypes for both the Republican and Democratic parties come from extremists, who are people who are either far right or far left. For example, racism does exist, and there are white supremacists that support the Republican party. Because of this, it sets a bad example for the party and some people associate the entire party with these extremists, which creates the false stereotypes. It is important that we ignore these stereotypes and be open-minded.
Personally, one experience I had during my sophomore year was my breaking point of “I have to hide my opinions.” During spirit week, it was “twin day,” and a few of my classmates (some of which were Democrats) wore “Make American Great Again” hats together. On that day of school, I was punched twice, flipped off multiple times, told to “take that s*** off,” given dirty looks all day, and a girl in my A-period class even started crying because she thought it was a symbol of hate. All this because of a hat that represents politics. This is a direct example of how this community is not welcoming to students with right-leaning views.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only ORHS student who has experienced this. “I’m a Barrington kid with an older sister who also attended Oyster River High School. She informed me about the strong political views of the community. I learned that I shouldn’t speak about any different ideas because of the automatic harsh judgment I was afraid to have associated with my name,” said Libby Cavanaugh (‘21). Nobody should have to feel that they cannot express themselves because they’re scared of being judged. It’s very difficult to encourage young people to have their own thoughts and opinions if they get judged for having ones that are different from other people. Isn’t that the exact opposite of how we want young people to feel? An important aspect of a public education system is to provide a diversity of ideas and perspectives, while also being challenged to develop one’s ideas.
When asked if he’s ever faked his political beliefs in order to feel accepted, Brody Neubauer (‘22) said, “pretty much every day. There really isn’t a time in my day where I find myself to be comfortable sharing my thoughts about politics.” He added, “during my time at Oyster River, I have felt very imposed to share my ideas and thoughts on what I think is right. I act differently around teachers, almost putting on a persona to make sure I don’t get targeted.”
I’ve experienced multiple occasions in school when I’ve had to pretend to have liberal views, because I would fear that teachers and classmates would view me as a bad person. In my Citizen Education class, one activity had us randomly partnering with another student and telling them which political party you identify with. This made me uncomfortable, so unless I was paired with someone I knew was Republican, my answer was always that I was a democrat.
Ethan Todd has had similar experiences, saying: “naturally if I’m hanging out with a group of students and they start talking about politics I just pretend to agree with everything they say.” Unfortunately, it’s not only students that Todd feels uncomfortable sharing his opinions with. He recalls many moments throughout high school where he felt teachers had implicit bias towards him. “After my teacher showed the film 13th, I voiced my opinion against the film. She then proceeded to call me a product of white supremacy because I did not understand [the people in the film].”
When asked what he feels the school could do better to fix these issues, Todd said, “Stop teacher propaganda in class to lower the emphasis the school has on politics.” He then elaborated on the propaganda portion, saying, “The decor in teachers’ classrooms includes campaign signs from recent elections praising democratic leaders, but not a single republican. This school does not teach, it indoctrinates.”
However, while I am disappointed by how unaccepting our community is of students with right-leaning views, I also believe that students on the right make the same mistakes. In a few discussions I’ve had with other republican students, they’ve stereotyped democrats such as calling them “snowflakes” or soft. Some seem to only have right-leaning views and aren’t very open minded. I feel that on both sides of the political spectrum in our community, in a general sense people are not open-minded enough and seem to “pick a side and stay with it.” I think it’s important to challenge our perspectives and always be open to new ideas, especially when we’re young.
As we see young people getting more and more involved in politics nowadays, it’s important to make sure that they’re learning the truth about the values of both sides so that they can make opinions of their own. Oyster River needs to do a better job of accepting right-leaning opinions, because having a diverse set of opinions is important to a community.
I believe that our community should address this problem by trying to teach kids to be more open minded at the elementary and middle school levels. On top of that I believe that our school district needs to do a better job of educating students to not have prejudices against people based on their political opinions. In a time where our country is so divided, it is important to educate our youth to accept ideas they disagree with, be open minded to new ideas, and to have respect for one another. It is until then that we will still be facing these issues in America.