Princeton conservatives on navigating liberal spaces

By Grace Fashanu
Spring, TX

Matthew Penza and Jacob Berman consider themselves minorities on Princeton’s majority-liberal campus. Both are conservative students unafraid of promoting their worldviews, but neither feels particularly isolated.

“Statistically, we are definitely a minority,” Penza said. “As far as discrimination or backlash, backlash often. Discrimination, I wouldn’t say so.”

The Brookings Institute has found that 37 percent of millennials consider themselves liberal while 38 percent consider themselves moderate. Penza and Berman belong to the 26 percent who consider themselves conservative, a group that represents a wide diversity of thought.

“Even within the conservative groups, a lot of the people dn’t agree with each other,” said Penza. “We’ve got classical liberals, we have libertarians, we have a few centrists.” Penza is a minority within the minority: He considers himself a monarchist — he believes we should be governed by a king.

Penza, a rising junior majoring in computer science, is a member of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, a conservative debate club; Princeton Pro-Life; and the Anscombe Society, which promotes monogamy and traditional gender roles. He participates every year in the March for Life and has brought anti-abortion and anti-pornography speakers to Princeton. Penza aspires to bring other conservative heroes, including writers Ben Shapiro and David Horowitz, to campus.

Penza says his conservative values stem from his family and his Catholic faith. Those childhood beliefs intensified when he learned about John Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers in his history classes — and realized he disagreed with them. “I just started to look at how different political ideologies developed, and conservatism made the most sense to me,” he said.

Penza said he’s only had one real confrontation with someone with opposing views at Princeton, and it wasn’t with a liberal student, but a fellow writer at The Princeton Tory, the conservative newspaper on campus. They disagreed on whether the Republican Party should be a “big tent,” or, as Berman advocates, only cater to traditional conservatives.

Berman, a rising sophomore at Princeton University and the vice president of the College Republicans, grew up in a conservative family in New York and refined his ideas by reading The New York Times to become more knowledgeable about current events. He considers himself fiscally conservative but “culturally libertarian” on issues like same-sex marriage. “I really think that a limited government and free market … would create the most successful government,” Berman said.

Berman said that he finds identity politics distasteful. He argued that policy, not race and gender, should determine whom you vote for. “They should be able to consider these ideas on their own […] without these stereotypes that stick in their heads,” he said.

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