The midwest is more than cornfields and conservatives

Renee Pineda, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

I left Nebraska for D.C. mostly because I wanted to get the best education possible. But I also knew that by leaving the midwest, I’d open myself up to meeting different people with different beliefs from all over the country and the world. I was ready to get to know myself better by leaving home.

It makes sense for college applicants to apply to universities that make them feel welcome.
For some students, that means applying to schools near home. But for others, it means going far away. For me, as a Filipino-American, I grew up with little knowledge of the food and a few words in Tagalog – the main language spoken in the Philippines – but I hardly knew anything about the traditions and the culture of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. So when I got accepted into GW, a school that I knew had a Filipino student organization and was located near Filipino communities, I knew that I had the opportunity to feel more connected to my roots.

Despite feeling like I would belong in a diverse community like GW’s, I realized I was a new kind of minority on campus – a resident of a “fly-over” midwestern state. I was surprised to feel like I was in the minority, as most students I met were from the East or West coasts. That feeling of exclusion amplified after the presidential election: Even before the election, media sources, like The New York Times, The Washington Post and pundits, like John Oliver, brought attention to the fact that people are often stuck in their own bubbles, both geographically and ideologically. This division has made it easy for students in GW’s liberal bubble to demonize people from different places with different values just because students don’t understand them.

Even though most students come from either coast, we have to bridge the divide between coastal liberals and small-town conservatives. Students, especially those pursuing degrees in political science or journalism, must try to understand and respect people from the places they have never been because they make up a substantial part of the American electorate.

After President Donald Trump won the election with almost every state and city in the midwest, I started hearing people on campus say that red states – like the one I am from and others in the middle of the U.S. – are full of xenophobes and racists. People in the heartland had to be “uneducated” or “ignorant” because of who they voted for, my classmates said.

For students who grew up surrounded by farmland, small towns and small-town people, it’s tough to hear students and faculty members make comments about people and places they’ve never bothered to visit. Students, regardless of their political affiliations, shouldn’t feel like their home communities are inherently bad. Where students grew up is as big a part of their identities as ethnicity or gender is, so other students should want to respect their peers by learning about where they are from.

I’ve found that the majority of students I’ve met know little about the midwest because they have lived in their coastal bubbles – exactly what people criticized after media outlets did not pay attention to a major part of the electorate and therefore failed to account for them when predicting election results. Ignoring a third of the country doesn’t help anyone, and there’s a lot to learn about these “fly-over” states.

I spent 18 years in Nebraska, and it is still home for me. While I was growing up, I never felt threatened or unwelcome in my state. Perhaps that’s a privilege of mine. But I know that plenty of my friends and neighbors back home are conservative, and to paint them with a particular brush without knowing them, their home or their circumstances is insulting.

The midwest is more than livestock and crops. Although it’s true that you’re never too far from a cornfield, the midwest is growing with new businesses and strengthening older ones – Warren Buffett was born in Omaha and still lives there. And the College World Series has been held in Omaha since 1950. The Iowa Caucus is the first state primary during a presidential election, and primaries often predict the final two candidates.

It’s easy for students who are from the DMV, New Jersey and New York to feel more connected on campus because there are so many of them, but students from the U.S.’s heartland attend GW too. One of the University’s priorities is “finding solutions to national and global problems,” and the first step toward finding a solution to a divided nation is understanding all parts of our own nation.

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