University of Montana policy prohibits harassment and discrimination based on 17 different categories, some of which include religion, race, gender identity and political ideas. Taylor Powell, a 21-year-old political science and psychology major, filed a report with the Equal Employment and Affirmative Action office in early February alleging a professor sent some students to harass her based on her conservative political ideas.
Her claims were contested when anthropology professor G.G. Weix wrote that Powell’s allegations against her and her students were inaccurate. An audio recording of the alleged incident reviewed by the Kaimin showed no signs of harassment. However, other students have shared that it can sometimes be difficult to be conservative at UM.
Mykaila Berry is a 21-year-old philosophy major from Columbus, Montana. She is currently studying philosophy, but eventually wants to attend law school. In her free time, she coaches volleyball and volunteers at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Missoula, a mentorship program that connects elementary-aged and middle school-aged children with adult role models. Berry also serves as treasurer for Turning Point USA; she said her goal is to make the student group unique to Missoula. Berry works as an administrative assistant in the Liberal Arts Building and is also involved with College Republicans.
Berry said she was raised by her grandparents, who taught her to support upholding the Second Amendment, anti-abortion ideals and limited government. However, Berry added she does not believe in defunding Planned Parenthood or limiting LGBT rights.
She said she feels college students often stereotype conservatives, making her nervous to share her opinions or wear certain shirts. She doesn’t like to be alone while tabling for Turning Point, a controversial national conservative organization, and often gets nervous about being yelled at or ridiculed, she said.
Berry said she still has good conversations with people who don’t agree with her, and she doesn’t mind engaging in political discourse. “I learn stuff all the time,” she said.
Jarred Gress, a 25-year-old Russian major from Columbia Falls, said UM doesn’t feel “conservative-friendly.”
Gress’ father served in the Air Force, and Gress is enlisted in the Army; veterans’ rights are very important to him. He said he often likes to visit the veterans home in Columbia Falls, where he can support and talk with veterans. He is interested in pachyderms, and in his free time enjoys shooting competitions, fishing, hunting and traveling. Gress visited Ukraine last year to clean up debris, and there, developed an interest in eastern Europe, which he continues to study at UM.
He believes in limited government, lower taxes and cutting government spending. He also supports the Second Amendment and sometimes wears a “socialism sucks” T-shirt, though he says people glare at him because of it.
Gress transferred from Weber State two months ago, and while he thinks it is easier to be a conservative at UM, he doesn’t always feel welcome. He said he believes liberals and conservatives both have good ideas, but because there are fewer conservatives on campus, people are not afraid to call them out.
To other conservative students, he said, “There’s more conservatives than you think there are… Don’t be scared to voice your opinions.”
Jack Meyer, a 21-year-old management information systems major from Chicago, said though he thinks most young Republicans are more moderate, they sometimes get stereotyped as extreme. However, his political experiences on campus have almost exclusively been positive, he said.
On two separate occasions, Meyer expressed interest in dating someone, and both times, a mutual friend told Meyer the girl wasn’t interested because she heard he was a Republican, he said.
“My gut reaction was to cut off interactions with them because I did not want to be involved with someone who would judge me like that, but on second thought I didn’t think that was beneficial to anyone,” Meyer said. “I continued talking with them and both turned into meaningful relationships-slash-friendships.”
Meyer said many students are well-versed in politics, keep an open mind and enjoy engaging in political discourse respectfully. He said going to school in Missoula has allowed him to see new and important issues that differ from those in his hometown.
“I don’t think many Chicagoans have the same type of appreciation for wild places as Montanans do,” Meyer said. “The change made me aware of issues that Chicagoans hardly think about.”
Meyer is a Freshman Wilderness Experience (FWE) trip leader, works as a guide for Pangea River Rafting and is part of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a nonprofit devoted to supporting Montana tech businesses. He loves working as a FWE leader because he gets to interact with lots of new people, and at the same time, gets to see some of the most beautiful places in Montana, he said. “I’m given ten 18-year-olds, take away their phones, deodorant, toilet paper and tell them to hike 30 miles!”
Now, Meyer is vice president of College Republicans, with goals to promote Republican ideals and make an impact in politics. He believes in a free market, minimal government involvement, lower taxes and free speech. He enjoys engaging in political discourse with people who can hold their own in a conversation, and supports environmental conservation and water rights.
“Yes, I have had students mouth off to me and reject even the idea of a political conversation, but those are the ones who seem to only read headlines,” Meyer said. “We may often disagree, but we can always agree that it is important for young people to be involved and aware of political activities. That’s what I love about UM.”