DURING THE 1980s, Ronald Reagan ushered in a new era of American conservatism that few can forget. But I don't remember one thing about it. Honestly, the first president who actually meant anything to me, besides being a fact in a book, was Bill Clinton. Like most of today's college students who were born during the Reagan administration, I grew up with the liberalism of the 1990s. So it only makes sense that those liberal values and ideas are considered ''normal" for most of my generation.
Indeed, there was a time when any twentysomething outside the realm of the left was considered an oddity and was ostracized for her political stance, particularly here in the Northeast. Consequently young conservatives tended to hide their opinions and go along, albeit silently, with the liberal stampede of their peers.
But with the rightward political tone of the country, many young conservatives finally feel safe to come out of the closet. And as students flock to campuses around Boston for a new year, they are coming out in droves.
Many collegians, both liberal and conservative, have sat through lectures where professors beat the drum of liberalism. As a college student who considers herself liberal, I've even noticed that some professors practice indoctrination instead of scholarship. With left-wing professors monopolizing many university campuses and with tenure making them a stationary face in the classroom, the changing student body has had little variety to choose from and ultimately nowhere to go.
Some conservative students have turned to channels outside of academia. Organizations like Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young America's Foundation have worked with student groups to bring conservative speakers onto campus. These organizations have encouraged students to organize and speak out.
And young conservatives have become more outspoken and active, championing issues against affirmative action, against abortion, and in support for the Iraq war. Nationwide membership for groups like College Republicans has quadrupled from 50,000 students in 1999 to 200,000 students today.
Conservative student-run newspapers are becoming an alternative information source on campus. Even UC Berkeley, historically considered left wing, today has a prominent conservative student newspaper, The California Patriot, that was founded in 2000. Harvard's 122-year-old shooting club, which at one point almost disappeared due to low membership, has over 100 student members now. Christian clubs and right-to-life groups have become the latest extracurricular craze on campuses everywhere.
Young conservatives even have young celebrity cohorts, like Adam Sandler, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Matt LeBlanc, and Britney Spears, who have helped to make being conservative, dare I say, hip.
Since my first course as a political science major, I've seen dramatic change in the make-up of class discussions. More-conservative students are challenging the norms of the liberal classroom. After George W. Bush was elected to his first term, I remember one of my professors speaking about how the country had ''fallen into the hands of the dark side" -- and most of the students laughed in agreement. I had that same professor just two years later, and he made a similar comment, but this time along with the liberal snickers he got a few conservative boos.
It may sound odd coming from a liberal, but I welcome conservative arguments. I believe they raise questions and ideas that aren't offered by professors most of the time. It generates political balance, which is needed.
As polarized as the country is, it seems that having a conversation about the real policies and goals of government never happens. A college classroom is the prime environment where this conversation should take place.
But let's face it, many liberal students have lived a sheltered life while conservative students were publicly damned. With an increasingly strong conservative presence on campus, liberals can no longer get away with putting down conservatives. Indeed, they can learn from them.
Strangely enough, conservative views have only reinforced my political stance as a liberal. I can no longer make comments in class about my opposition to the Iraq war or my support for a woman's right to choice without hearing disagreement from a conservative student. It has forced young liberals like myself to be better informed on both sides of the political spectrum.
Randi Powell is a student at UMass Boston.