As a college student, McKenzie Deutsch makes use of any internship opportunity that comes her way. She once interned at KIRO Radio, and more recently she spent a summer working for a Republican congresswoman. Through that experience, she learned more about the country’s current political divide than she ever expected.
It all started when Deutsch was interning with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and had a photo opportunity with Vice President Mike Pence.
“I thought it was cool,” Deutsch told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “It could have been any vice president of the United States … my peers didn’t think the same thing. It’s been sort of bizarre. I have actually had some friends who won’t speak to me now.”
She posted the photo with Vice President Pence on Facebook, where she says she generally doesn’t engage in politics. It quickly garnered comments from fellow students at Claremont Colleges where she attends classes at Scripps College.
“I get all these comments attacking the photo, saying that I’m smiling with peoples’ oppressor, people who might identify with the LGBTQ community,” she said. “Some people just called me bad names. I got private messages sort of attacking me for the photo. Nobody asked me why I took the photo. Nobody out of that group of people seemed to think it was cool in any way that any of their peers met the vice president of the United States.”
Deutsch notes that some people said the photo was “an act of violence. Other people said, “silence is violence.”
“People said I was directly harming marginalized people by standing next to someone like the vice president of the United States.”
The response to the Pence photo did not surprise Deutsch, who wrote about the experience in a column for the Claremont Independent. The column starts: “Mutual respect for those with right-leaning political beliefs is lost on liberal students at the Claremont Colleges.”
The atmosphere at her university, she says, is so intolerant to diversity of thought that she strategically chooses her classes to avoid biased content and intolerance; she doesn’t want to be attacked if her views differ.
“I think it’s unfortunate that people have that viewpoint,” she said. “Because how are we supposed to have a conversation about issues that people in marginalized groups care about? How are we supposed to have a conversation if you just shun someone for taking a photo?”
She’s now trying to steer the controversy over the Pence photo to a more mature, productive dialogue.
“I think a lot of other students feel the exact same way as I do,” she said. “But it takes someone to say it publicly … no one really wants to say anything because they are going to get attacked like I am – I still am.”
“I’m just going to do it and hope that it does start a genuine dialogue on my campuses … I hope it does make people realize that this is an issue, and I’m not the only one who feels this way,” Deutsch said. “And if we really want to learn, because college is all about being exposed to all these different ideas and really engaging and having a debate and learning about all sides of everything.”