College these days is not an easy place to have Republican or conservative political views. I see others wearing Obama t-shirts or donning their laptops with Democratic campaign stickers, and I think nothing of it. That is their right, after all, to voice their opinions. This is America. But when I am choosing what shirt to put on before I leave my dorm, I have a tendency to dig past the Romney shirt, or the one which supports the “Bible, Beer, & Bullets” because I am far too aware of the dirty looks I receive. I would not want someone to be offended by my views, or think I’m not a good person or someone they would not want to talk to because I am openly Republican.

See the irony? I know individuals differ in how they go about discussing political hot topics. I have had conversations with plenty of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and everyone else in between to know that while some possess the ability to be civil in debate, there are definitely individuals that throw personal attacks and insults at anyone who disagrees. Those people come from all sides. But for some reason, being on a college campus makes it kind of nerve-wracking to be open about being Republican.

I make it my goal to earn respect from others based on the way I carry out my life: how I treat people in conversation, how my actions are perceived, and basically, trying to be easy-going on a daily basis. I do not want to only be friends with people who are Republicans. I have met so many lovely people who have added to my good memories and happiness that are not Republican. I’m talking far left-wingers, moderate Democrats, full on Independents, and individuals who could not care any less about politics.

When I see my left-wing friends post on social media, I think, “Wow. They at least care about something enough to speak out about it.” What follows in my thought process usually will include all the ways I disagree with them, but their opinions do not change how I think about them as a person. Whenever I feel passionate about a political issue enough to post on social media, however, I brace myself. And it honestly takes a lot of courage. How many Twitter followers will I lose today? How many people will comment on my Facebook status insulting my ability to perceive current events, rather than simply disagreeing with me? And I get incredibly nervous.

This is the thought process I went through while summoning the courage to post about the trial in Ferguson and the subsequent riots, the trial for Governor Bob McDonnell in Virginia, and many other issues. To make clear my views, I agreed with the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, I condemned the rioting in Ferguson, and disagreed with the decision to indict Governor Bob McDonnell. I could write entire articles about those specific issues, but that is not the point of this article. My point is, when I voiced my unpopular opinion (at least on my college campus), I was surprised.

People who I have not spoken to or seen in years provided their support by liking my statuses, commenting on them, etc. I have even received personal messages from others saying they were glad I spoke up because they wanted to themselves. Mere acquaintances chime in, and when I expect four or five likes (probably from my friends’ parents on Facebook), I am shocked to receive plenty more. What I take from this is that there are plenty of conservatives and Republicans who I share many opinions with (often unknowingly) in the shadows of college campuses. And they’re in the shadows because it is not popular to be Republican in this generation. For whatever reason, I have been labeled as racist, sexist, homophobic, and just plain dumb simply because I carry the descriptor “Republican.” I feel many individuals would be rather surprised about my opinions on many issues because they expect to hear exactly what the media says they should hear from a Republican.

Writing this article has been refreshing. For me, watching politics unfold for the past several years has been largely frustrating and depressing. But now I feel hope, because so many individuals from my generation are starting to band together and speak up about the issues they care about. For citizens who are concerned America is doomed, these experiences I am sharing should be comforting. There are plenty of good leaders on the horizon, and I am proud to know them.