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As I set up a Network of enlightened Women table at my university’s fall 2018 student organization fair, a sense of excitement engulfed me. Less than a year ago, I had been reserved about my conservatism, but now, as a senior, I am eager to defend policies and principles I support.

Yet it still can be difficult when faced with confrontation. As I advertised NeW to my peers at the campus fair, a man from another table walked up to us and picked a fight.

He said in a mocking tone that because my hair isn’t blonde, I’ll never be invited to appear on Fox News. He added my opinions are stupid and claimed I don’t care about others just because I am conservative. He capped off his round of insults by calling conservative women like me “dangerous.”

I stayed calm, although I had a million thoughts running through my head. I replied that the best part of America is that we can all have different opinions, and mine happens to be conservative. I told him I would be happy to discuss policy issues with him in a respectful manner. He declined my offer and walked away.

This time last year, I would not have stood my ground. Until recently, I never told people on campus I was conservative even though I was very politically active. I only felt comfortable talking about my political views at College Republican meetings or in the privacy of my own home. I had seen too many of my like-minded peers lambasted. I did not want to open myself up to the same treatment.

At one point, it got so bad that I lied to friends and professors about what I supported, so I would not lose friendships or see my grades suffer.

Things started to change during the 2016 presidential election. I became more comfortable telling people I was conservative because I was tired of the stereotypes thrown around that went unchecked. One in particular often went something like this: “Oh, you’re a woman, you have to vote for Hillary.” My reply was, “No, I can choose for myself who I will support.”

And one of my concerns did come true. After I told a good friend I planned to vote for Donald Trump, he didn’t talk to me for a week.

I am conservative because I believe it is important to work for what you earn. America is the land of opportunity where anyone who works hard can achieve their goals no matter their race, origin, gender or circumstances. I believe in capitalism and want to see our country continue to support it. A free market economy will make a better future for my generation and generations to come. I am conservative because I support the brave men and women who fight to maintain our freedoms. Their sacrifices allow us to exercise the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

I share this message at Western Michigan University in a way that positively and productively challenges erroneous stereotypes about right-of-center principles. With that, some peers discover I am not what they expect. I am not mean or anti-woman. I want to help maintain freedoms for myself and every American. It all comes down to a conversation. Everyone has a story and reason for voting the way they do. Talking helps us understand that.

As members of NeW, we try to make our actions speak louder than words, not just in political debates. Take, for example, a program our chapter launched called “Moms and Mochas.” We invited mothers from all walks of life — single moms, working moms, entrepreneurs, politicians — to celebrate the role models that they are and learn from the different challenges in life they have overcome.

Margaret Reid is a senior at Western Michigan University. She is majoring in Food and Consumer Package Goods Marketing with a minor in Business Analytics. She started a chapter of the Network of enlightened Women at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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