by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Patterson Sheehan writes for the Martin Center about life as a conservative student at the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus.
I am so grateful for and blessed by my time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, I am keen to the reality that my political foundations differ from the vast majority of my Tar Heel peers.
It is alienating to be a conservative in Chapel Hill. In many of my classes, the word “Republican” holds the same weight as the word “Duke” at best or “racist” at worst (as a classmate directly told me). In a bathroom stall in Lenoir (the main dining hall on campus), someone etched the words “It’s not okay to be a Republican because it harms people.”
That atmosphere makes me second-guess myself. Last fall, I threw on my Reagan-Bush sweatshirt before heading to a coffee shop to Zoom into class. I then panicked and kept my camera off, fearing that my sweatshirt might draw unwanted attention or backlash from a classmate or professor.
At UNC, Democratic professors outnumber Republican professors 12:1—and 16 of our school’s departments do not have a single Republican professor (including my major, public policy). While I recognize that academia generally leans left and UNC is not an anomaly, the lack of diversity of thought is still concerning. I think differences in opinion are beautiful and essential to a functioning democracy, as well as for a well-rounded education. An intellectual monoculture suggests that UNC is not giving students the education they deserve, whether they are on the left or the right.
That monoculture also discourages me from being open with my peers. …
… The brunt of the intolerance I have felt has not been from my overwhelmingly left-leaning professors, but from other students. From my first day at Carolina, I recognized the liberal ideology that students were expected to conform to. The student culture demands assimilation while calling it openness and acceptance.