I recently read a New York Times article about a strategy many students are taking in choosing a college: There are students who purposefully attend schools where they won’t fit in.

Whether it is religion, politics or economics, many students think it’s important to attend schools where they can represent an outside perspective and challenge the campus status quo. And I couldn’t agree more with their outlook.

I began my college search as a freshman. I felt it was important to begin as early as possible to know and understand what I wanted out of a college experience.

I visited colleges all over the country, all recommended for political science and economics. While I felt I was getting a head start and making sure every aspect of my college experience was perfect for me, I knew there was one factor that was going to be very hard to get away from: the liberal dominance in academia.

As a conservative student at Country Day, I have always felt my opinions were generally welcomed and tolerated. While I have had incidents that challenged that tolerance, the culture –   and especially my fellow students – have always accepted my ideas and have welcomed conversations and debates rather than yelling and screaming.

But based on constant news stories showing college campuses in mass chaos and even violent protest over split ideologies, I became incredibly concerned that my views wouldn’t be welcomed and that I might be ostracized based on them.

This became my greatest fear after a series of violent acts during an event at University of California, Berkeley, on Feb. 1, 2017, during which a large protest turned into a riot over Milo Yinnapoulos, a conservative speaker. Fireworks were thrown at police; windows on campus and at local businesses were smashed; and Trump supporters were pepper-sprayed while being interviewed by local TV news networks.

After Trump’s election to the White House, social justice warriors and radical leftists became unhinged. They started to view any form of criticism or opposition to their movement as a threat to their very existence. They began to shut down every speaker who disagreed with them, regardless of whether they were conservative or not.

The best example of how far the social justice left has gone to silence any criticism of their movement comes from Evergreen, Washington.

At the Evergreen Washington State College campus, a professor of evolutionary biology named Bret Weinstein objected to a “Day of Absence” created by faculty and students. The absence protest was meant for white faculty and students to voluntarily leave campus for the entire day.

In an email to his faculty colleagues, he compared it to racial segregation where people were supposed to act based on the color of their skin. Those who planned the protest, mostly far-left students and faculty, immediately started attacking and protesting Professor Weinstein, calling him a racist and a tool of the alt-right.

According to VICE news, he describes himself as “deeply progressive.” He has said he wants to be an ally to minorities and people of color trying to gain social equity; he just disagreed with the methods of the protest.

Still, to the far-left agitators, any criticism of their actions immediately makes their critics members of racist and bigoted organizations and philosophies.

Hillsdale College, Michigan. (Photo used by permission of Lincoln)

This kind of unimaginable and horrible branding by many students and teachers who operate on college campuses scared me to death. I didn’t want to be branded terrible things, like racist and bigot, by those with whom I was meant to study and learn. I didn’t want to be fearful of sharing my opinion or ideas in an institution that was built for that exact purpose. That is why I looked for conservative schools, and my family found one that looked good: Hillsdale College.

I got the opportunity to visit the campus last March. It was a small school in southern Michigan, an hour drive from Detroit. It was a conservative’s paradise: statues of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan stood tall; classes contained the evils of communism, ranging from Cuba to North Korea; students prayed before eating their lunch; Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement speech at the 2018 graduation.

But after visiting the school and seeing how conservative it was, something changed in me. I had an epiphany somewhere between seeing the Winston Churchill statue and reading all the pro-life material in the student center.

Was this America’s problem? Were people so afraid of other opinions and thoughts that they retreated to their own echoic chambers to hear only what they wanted to hear?

With the rise of partisanship in Washington, and a general turning from facts to politically bias opinions by cable news shows, this theory started to make sense; the world would be better off if more people attended schools and visited places where they might not agree with everyone on everything.

Don’t get me wrong – Hillsdale is a great school, and I would love to attend. But I felt a deeper calling after visiting the Hillsdale campus: I felt I had a mission to bring conservativism to those who maybe felt uncomfortable hearing it.

We are all too afraid of hearing things we don’t want to hear. That doesn’t make hearing those things less important. If anything, it makes hearing it more important. We all need a reality check: the world isn’t perfect – nor is any political ideology or idea.

The point of having a debate is not to call the other side racist or idiotic. It is to debate issues. If the social justice left were to actually debate with a fascist, they would not only win the debate but also win over the minds of millions of Americans. However, by shutting them down and calling those slightly to the political right of them racists, these leftists actually push people to the extremes.

This country would be a million times better if people would sit down and hear what the other person has to say. Don’t call people racists simply for voting for Donald Trump; instead, hear what their concerns are. Maybe they had a small business, and a tax cut would have helped a lot. Maybe they want people to immigrate to this country but only by using a legal and organized manner.

If you are a conservative, sit down with a liberal and hear what they have to say. Maybe they aren’t “idiots” but are just concerned about our economic system and why those at the bottom rung are struggling.

Conversations like these are needed now more than ever, and they can start at the institutions that were built for conversations like these: colleges.

—By Blake Lincoln