This post was originally published in April 2016
In the spring of 2015 I was wrapping up my studies at Snow College and consequently considering what my next step would be in my education. I could always resume my studies at Utah Valley University where I had attended right out of high school, but I wanted to try something else. As one of the many tremendous educational opportunities set before me as a Utah resident, I decided to apply to the University of Utah and see what happened.
I come from a pretty undeviatingly consistent BYU tradition in my family, so the U of U had never really been on my radar throughout life. But due to some largely unforeseen setbacks, attending BYU became an impossibility. I knew that Utah was a reputable institution, but I had never even so much as set foot on the campus. Looking back, I honestly claim complete ignorance regarding the liberal reputation of the university. It just didn’t even cross my mind. So when I learned I had been accepted, I decided that I would give it a shot. I had faith that if it was meant to be, things would work out for me there. I started school as a Ute in August of 2015, and my experiences during that semester changed me and my outlook on humanity so profoundly that I would be doing my life and posterity a great disservice should I not write them down. So, in the following paragraphs, I will attempt to scratch the surface of the ordeal – and I will try my best.
The plan of study that I had made had to be adjusted when I suddenly was presented with a whole different set of major options at the U. After some deliberation over the summer I declared a major with a really cool integrated program involving consumer economics and community politics (cardinal mistake #1). Of the classes I enrolled in, two of them quickly became giant stumbling blocks in my otherwise smooth college class experience. One was called Modern Family, and the other School and Society. If you’re keen on college course names, you are correct to presume that I was in for a healthy dose of a liberal education in multiple ways with the words family and society in them. And even that would be an understatement.
At face value the U of U seems like any other college campus. You have your bearded professors walking promptly with tattered leather bags, Asian people smoking cigarettes outside buildings, the occasional “emo” person, and incalculable pairs of yoga pants with every turn of the head. The campus is beautiful, and the setting pristine. I took the chance to walk around on my first day and I was amazed at the high tech facilities, and especially the history of the buildings. When I saw the amount of books that the Marriott Library has, I could just feel my intellectual juices begin to flow – which didn’t happen so much at Snow (which is a fantastic institution, don’t get me wrong). That wonder quickly subsided when I entered the classroom. I immediately realized I was different. Appearance wise, sure. Here I was – a crew-cut, clean-shaven white guy that wore a suit to school every day (for employment reasons). But it wasn’t long until I realized that I was also a minority in my views and ideas. The comments I made during class on the first day weren’t received as I would have otherwise hoped…and I took the hint that, for instance, although I was studying in the James E. Talmage building, the chances of my fellow pupils knowing who or what he was were depressingly low. It took about two weeks for me to get a grip on the fact that I was one of very few Christian conservatives around me. In Salt Lake City, Utah, easily at one point defined by the flagship characteristics of traditional American conservatism because of the demographic alone, I found myself to be one of very few Christian conservatives. Interesting stuff. But despite my realizations, I honestly was excited for the opportunity.
I’ll cut right to the chase here using every ounce of wisdom I have obtained over the course of my life. The differences between liberals and conservatives have, in my opinion, increased ten fold in polarity over the last 25 years. Regardless of where you live from sea to shining sea, politics both local and federal are handled much differently on a day to day basis. Utah is certainly no exception when it comes to these issues of opinion, but Utah has an element that no other state in the Union happens to have – and that is a staggering number of Mormons. And, since I happen to be one of them (transplanted at that), I can say that one thing Mormons are really good at is thinking alike. But due to the recent increase in the non-Mormon population, primarily since the turn of the century, the political climate has also changed – and might I add for the absolute worst. The dynamic between Mormons and non-Mormons is totally different in Utah than in other parts of the country, and those differences have bled profusely into the political sphere. I’m confident when I say that outside of Utah, relationships and differences are handled in a much more civil and friendly manner. For example, one might say “Oh you’re a Mormon? That’s interesting…” and both parties continue minding their own business. People generally don’t get too worked up about it because a lot of people live their lives with the mindset that everyone can do and think as they want, and that doesn’t have to prevent them from being friends or good neighbors. It’s an aspect that I generally really like about the American culture as a whole. But in Utah, and I write in generalities here, we have a bit of a different situation. In Utah there is the element of religion. And that alone changes the game.
There are some obvious observations that can be made about the liberal community in Utah, and especially in Salt Lake City. The non-Mormon element is potent, and often relished. It’s not just that people are liberal. Great men and leaders of the United States of America had liberal political views, and there is nothing wrong with that (admittedly, there are even a few select issues that I lean left on). However (and again, I am generalizing here), the general liberal community isn’t just about politics, it’s about showing the world that they are not like the “mainstream” Utah people they live amongst that the rest of the country so ignorantly classifies as a white, Mormon, staunchly and ignorantly conservative individual with at least 5 children and a Honda Odyssey. For some reason there exists a pressure, a phenomenon even, in Utah where people not of the Mormon faith or conservative ideology feel the need to be so bold in their views so as to make a specific point or relay a particular message to their conservative neighbors – and everyone. In other areas of the country, people just have their differences and move on. My claim is that in Utah we experience the contrary. Subtle or not, this politically-rooted phenomenon happens to be rampant right now in our state, and is only magnified at the University of Utah. I got the chance to have a front row seat.
Take the athletic rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University as an example. Collegiate rivalries exist all across the world, but none of them compare to the depth of hate that exists between these two Utah schools, and experienced ESPN correspondents would agree. Where another rivalry in sports exists because the other school is on the other side of town, this rivalry exists because of people’s ideologies both political and religious. When Utah beats BYU, it isn’t just a season win, it is a win against the Mormons. When BYU wins over Utah, it is a win for God. Utah fans aren’t against BYU because they are the school in the other valley. If that were the case they would be burning the Utah State or Weber State flags. Utah is against BYU because they represent a population of which the U of U fans refuse to be associated with, and vice-versa. Their very purpose, as previously mentioned, becomes to prove to the world that there is another way to succeed rather than the Mormon way. USC hates UCLA because they share greater Los Angeles. BYU hates Utah because they represent the rebels and the godless heathens of the community. No wonder so many fear for their safety at away games.
I was surprised that on the second day attending my School and Society class, my instructor began by “informing” us how the Bush Administration was responsible for the collapse of the modern educational system (No Child Left Behind, etc.). I had just finished reading George W. Bush’s autobiographical book “Decision Points” and knew that claim to be completely false. So I spoke up about it. I also learned in my Modern Family class that the textbook definition of a “family” that is accepted now does not in any way align with the declarations made by leaders of the LDS Church in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a document on which I base my understanding of the familial role in modern society. It’s not that I was sheltered as a kid…I mean I really couldn’t care less what people believe. I was more in awe by the fact that what I opposed was so widely accepted. Things like divorce, abortion, gay marriage, cohabitations, and other things were considered the norm and even anticipated. So I spoke about them, and suddenly my opposition was a problem.
There was one instance in my School and Society class in which we were discussing the teaching of environmentalism and creationism vs. evolution in schools. The general consensus of the class, being Subaru-driving, Patagonia-wearing liberal atheists was obviously pro-evolution and blah blah blah climate change. I decided to acknowledge the pounding in my chest that I came to identify as my desire to refute, and I raised my hand. I took out my iPad and opened up to the first and second chapter of Genesis in my Bible app. I explained principles of the creation as well as God’s instruction to Adam to have stewardship over Eden. I essentially suggested to the class that God made the world for us. Suddenly one of my classmates exclaimed in retaliation, “You’re selfish! The fact that you think this world was made for us is selfish and absurd. The world has been around for billions of years and our species just happened upon it.” It had been a while since I had been objected to my face like that after reciting scripture (having been a missionary for the Church). I’m not really one to argue after I have explained my views as clear as I had, so I didn’t bite. But after class that day, a quiet member of the class came up to me and thanked me for speaking up. Whether it’s me or someone else, someone has to make a case for God.
In my Modern Family class, there was a day when a guest panel from the U of U LGBTQ student community came to speak to us and tell us about what it is like to be them. At the beginning of the discussion, we had to agree to respect the speakers and their right to deny answering any question that might offend them. So I had to sit there for an hour and listen to how horrible they feel they are treated and the hardships of growing up in the “local and predominant faith” and not being accepted by anyone. The main speaker of the panel was a transgender (born male) individual who asked to be called Alithia and that we use she/her pronouns. After listening to her/his story, I legitimately felt bad that a person has to live their lives as troubled as they do. It must truly be difficult trying to decide which bathroom to use at the student center. At the end of the discussion they passed out a survey page, on which I took the free liberty to anonymously express my opinion about their comments.
The point I made as I wrote was essentially that one’s right to behave the way they do should not result in the limiting of my right to disagree with them. See, this is an issue that liberals (generally) have a hard time getting a grip on…especially in Utah. For example, people can support gay marriage. Do people have the constitutional right to marry who they want? I suppose so…everyone is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And with the recent laws established by the Supreme Court, they now have exactly what they wanted. However, when people’s right to marry the same gender and other’s right to support them begin to restrict or limit my right to morally oppose it, I start to have a problem. When people say “you are horrible for denying them their rights,” I am being criminalized for my views, which is the exact thing that they are protesting. And simply believing in traditional marriage in no way means that I am denying people their rights. Nor does it vilify my religion. When I was a student at the U of U, I began to realize firsthand that though the liberal community demands that their voices be heard and accepted, they are very quick to ridicule the differing views and voices of others (conservatives). I guess I’m just of the mindset of agreeing to disagree. Apparently that is not really a thing anymore.
My Modern Family professor was a nice person and I didn’t feel as driven to confound her because she generally was quite accommodating of everyone’s ideas. My School and Society professor was not. He was transparently biased, and I felt the need to fight against him. His co-teacher who sat in on the class was a lesbian woman named Tangi with diked hair and tattoos and piercings from head to toe. She was unique…and obviously experiencing some personal confusion of her own (why is it that so many homosexual people study Gender Studies?). The problem with godless academics is that they become so inflated in their capacities to think things through that they waste a lot of time and never really get anywhere. The social stigma to be politically correct in all things is so dominating that professors, in turn, do not teach effectively and don’t make clear points. In one particular instance, the professor was telling us about some issues dealing with racism in school systems nationwide. I became annoyed and impatient and asked, “So what is the solution?” and he said, “I don’t know.” In return, I told him that if he has been in the field of educational criticism for the 30+ years he claimed and could not answer that question, then his career had, in essence, had very little purpose. He and the whole class just stared at me blankly. What? Is that not a valid statement? On a side note, my professor turned out to be a cohabiting homosexual with a lesbian daughter. When he announced he was cancelling class to attend her wedding, he received a resounding ovation.
So, this is about how my semester went day after day, issue after political issue. Apparently I was a minority when I said that I enjoyed my experience in public schools as a child. I was considered naive when I said that I have a mom and a dad who have been happily married for decades. I was unique in the fact that someday I want to get married and stay married and have a few children of my own. Apparently I was the only one that supports the way President Bush handled the new dichotomy of radical Islamic terrorism he was presented with, and I am proud to believe in a God that doesn’t provide all the answers all of the time. In academia there is no room for faith because apparently it is not concrete enough. I was essentially alone in considering my faith to be the mortar between the bricks of my intellect – bridging the gap between the secular and the spiritual.
The thought that was constantly on my mind as I looked at the student body of the University of Utah was how exhausting it must be to always be so against everything all the time. There was always something going on. Anti-government, anti-school system, anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-gun, anti-religion, anti-military, anti-domestic oil drilling, etc. It’s not that I’m a conformist by any means…I wasn’t brainwashed by Republicans. I had to figure things out for myself, and I have my own issues. But I guess I just have a much more basic approach to issues and philosophies. So many discussion-prompting questions and problems posed by my School and Society professor could have been answered with a simple “because it just is. Can we talk about how to fix it?” I just don’t find much productivity or sense in the hopeless quagmire of the theoretical evaluation of problems. I want to see results. Change. Progress. All this while proudly wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat (now that REALLY triggered the snowflakes, believe me!).
When the semester was over, I had almost stopped going to school entirely and I ultimately failed the School and Society class. My professor told me that he didn’t feel I grasped the views expressed in our readings, and that consequently I had not “mastered” the course material. It also may have been the fact that my thesis was how formal schooling was entirely unnecessary – completely defying the point of the class. It was what it was. In the end I had experienced my own personal political revolution. For the first time in my life I had been forced to defend my own political views, not just religious ones (though they often come from the same values). These are views that my parents taught me. These are views that I have also come to know to be correct for myself through experience. Though I spent the majority of the semester complaining about all of the things I had to go through daily, I learned more about myself and my ability to think independently than ever before. It wasn’t that I was at all swayed in my positions. In fact it was the opposite. I was strengthened in them and came to know things even clearer for myself.
As you might have guessed, about mid-way through the semester I decided that the University of Utah was not the place for me. I decided that it wasn’t necessary for me to have to be constantly swimming upstream in my educational pursuits. I have since continued my education elsewhere and have had a much more enjoyable time. College is still college and it will always be a time to learn alternate views. A time to learn to think critically and communicate effectively. I certainly would be lying if I said there are not liberal professors at UVU, BYU, or Utah State. That is unavoidable no matter where you go, because this is America and that is what makes us great. But there is a difference between a healthy, liberal arts education and the “indoctrination by liberals” education I experienced at the U. Now in hindsight, I feel like I’m better prepared to navigate complicated situations in the future. So there you have my brief tale of my time among the most unique collection of liberals the nation has to offer. I lived to tell the story, and consider myself to be all the more wise because of it.