Conservative Student Panel Discusses Diversity of Thought at Menlo


Seniors Brian Mhatre, Connor McCusker, and Jake Martin and junior Charlotte Acra speak about their beliefs and experiences at Menlo during the diversity of thought panel discussion. Staff photo: Samantha Stevens.

Elisabeth Westermann, Opinions Editor

On Friday, March 1, as a part of Diversity Week, History Department Chair Ryan Dean hosted a panel of four conservative students to discuss diversity of thought at Menlo. The students, seniors Brian Mhatre, Conor McCusker and Jake Martin and junior Charlotte Acra, talked about their experiences as conservatives at Menlo, defined conservatism and addressed how Menlo could become more inclusive of diverse political viewpoints.

Dean hoped that the panel would highlight the perspectives of conservative students at Menlo. “A conservative might justly worry that their political opinions or beliefs will not be accepted by many of their teachers or classmates. It also means that conservatives might feel isolated or marginalized, hence the value of this student panel, which elevated conservative voices,” Dean said in an email.

Acra also hoped that students would leave the discussion knowing more about conservative viewpoints. “We hoped that Menlo students would understand the different varieties of political thought that are present to the right of center,” Acra said.

The students each spoke about times on campus when they had faced bias or been shut down because of their political views. To address the problem, Acra advised Menlo students to become more educated about the labels they use to group different students’ opinions. “I think that because people don’t actually know what it means to be a conservative and how multifaceted it can be, just like it can be multifaceted to be a liberal. It’s often misconceived how black and white the issue is like ‘every conservative has to be a racist, a sexist.’ […]  I think that people need to get more educated about what it actually means to be a conservative and be more open-minded on people’s ideas,” Acra said during the discussion.

The panelists also encouraged Menlo students to engage in respectful discussion with the people with whom they disagree. “There are certain beliefs you can have and if you express those beliefs, certain people will look on you like you’re a worse person. […]  I would challenge everyone to talk to the person that you disagree with. I think that it’s important that we really talk to each other when we have a disagreement,” Mhatre said during the discussion.

Martin suggested that there be safe places to discuss political divisions at Menlo after controversial speakers come to assemblies. “I think the best improvement would be to have a safe and open place for discussion after a lot of these assemblies that could actually be a lot more controversial than people think. I think having an open place for those dialogues to happen, maybe something outside of advocacy, could be pretty productive so that people who may have a differing belief have a place where it’s accepted and even encouraged to share that,” Martin said.