I am Amy M. Miller, J.D., and I am no longer a “college” conservative.

I’ve shuffled off the academic coil and into the fabled land of “adulthood,” and I’ve never felt better. It’s a very liberating feeling, to know that I’ll never again have to walk into a classroom until I choose to be a student once more (or, a professor. Be afraid, future law students; I’m coming for you.) I’ll be taking a backseat role here at TCC from now on

During my brief time at TCC, I put my unabashed love of academia on display; although I’ve had the opportunity to step back and reflect upon a near-decade of life in the intellectual minority, my feelings have not changed. Earning my law degree was more than an endurance exercise; it was a labor of love. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been waiting for that doctoral hood since I was about 8 years old; it’s not just something they handed to me as I walked out the door. I earned it.

I’m bragging on myself…but that’s alright. This piece is for the academics in the room, and they get it.

College is a difficult place to be a conservative. Grad school is even harder. Law school was maddening; I can’t imagine the Hell I’ll enjoy when I start pursuing that elusive S.J.D. (Be afraid, Harvard University. I’m coming for you, too.) I use the term “intellectual minority” without reservation and without cheek; liberal bias in American universities is a reality most of you have learned to recognize.

It’s also something all of you must learn to work with.

I’m not here to tell you bias is acceptable, and I’m not here to tell you that you should roll over and accept it when it happens. What I will say is that to stand up and claim that there is nothing to be learned from a liberal professor is both ignorant, and hopelessly naive.

During my time at TCC, I’ve heard from a lot of students (both staff writers here at TCC and students-at-large) who have questioned their choice in college, their choice in major, and even their choice to attend college at all. It’s not just students, though; many, many conservative adults continue to question the wisdom of pursuing a degree, and even more question the wisdom of choosing to earn a graduate degree.

I call shenanigans on that noise.

It is true that not all degrees are worth their weight in tuition; it is also true that not all colleges are worth the paper their glossy brochures are printed on. It is also double-complete true that some people go to college and spend four years wasting their time perfecting the perfect flip cup technique, and completely ignore the whole “higher education” thing. It is also-also double-complete infinity true that you will encounter at least one liberal jerk of a professor who will make you wish you were dead.

Boo freaking hoo. Reject the echo chamber.

Oh, the echo chamber: the safe little swaddle that hugs the curves of the conservative mind like a well-worn pair of Spanx. It is just that, however: safe, and little. The echo chamber makes you feel safe, and smart, and confident. It also makes you stupid.

Very, very stupid.
And naive.
And vulnerable.

I was very active both in undergrad and in law school, which gave me the opportunity to interact with people of all creeds; it is with that knowledge under my belt that I can tell you for absolute certain that I would not be the conservative I am today had it not been for the liberal whackjobs who bulldozed their way into my life and challenged everything I believe in. I can also tell you that, with the exception of one professor who was an absolute disgrace, every single one of those avowed liberals was never anything but respectful and encouraging to me. It’s so, so important to see past the ideological Napalm most professors like to drop on the first day of class; if you can’t get past the McCain jokes, you’ll never see what’s beneath the surface. It’s not a matter of reconciling a liberal professor with your current world view–it’s a matter of getting the hell over yourself and recognizing that “liberal” does not equate to “ignorant,” and that being challenged is not the same thing as being disrespected.

It’s not “compromising” to take a class with a liberal professor, or to hang out with liberal friends, or to explore areas of your concentration that may not be traditionally “conservative”; don’t let anyone tell you any different. The truly smart and talented don’t head into college or grad school with the goal of having their brilliant existences validated by the masses; they go there to learn. They go there to be challenged.

The message? Don’t be afraid to be challenged. Don’t play it safe. If you’re never offended, challenged, or otherwise thrown askew, you’re doing something wrong. During undergrad, I studied US foreign policy under Harry Targ, who happened to be included in a list of “The Most Dangerous Professors in America”. He may have been an avowed socialist, but that man taught me more about foreign policy in two semesters than most people learn their whole lives. Never once did I feel threatened, offended, lampooned, or otherwise disrespected by that man. (If you’re at Purdue, take a class with Harry–you won’t regret it.) The point is, don’t sell yourself short by limiting yourself to classes and professors you feel comfortable with. Be intellectually honest about it; you may not agree with everything, but you can sure as hell learn something from it.

That being said, it’s important to hold true to those self-evident truths we as conservatives treasure and respect. Allow academia to challenge you, but don’t let it break you. Find an ally–I did, and that professor is the reason I survived law school without adding irrational bouts of screaming to my repertoire. Allies are important.

Remember–it’s college, and nothing that happens there will ever constitute the end of the world. It’s your time. Be smart, be brave, and most importantly, be intellectually honest. Not all right answers will be conservative; not all conservative answers will be right. Do everything you can to grow wise enough to recognize the difference between a well-reasoned argument and a glorified talking point. Don’t settle for the easy and the simplistic; you can always do better than what other people have thought of. Be original.

That’s how a true “generation of leaders” emerges.