The courage to be right

Kassy Dillon standing on the library mezzanine, which overlooks the Chihuly sculpture (not pictured).

Interview by Keely Savoie

Mount Holyoke College prides itself on commitment to diversity, equity, access, and its unwavering mission to provide a truly liberal arts education to its student body. Those unshakeable pillars of Mount Holyoke’s ideology mean having the strength to embrace difference, with the knowledge that challenge pays off in richer, deeper connections both within the community and with the greater world.

Kassy Dillon ’18, a double major in Middle Eastern studies and international relations, is no stranger to challenge—and to the rewards it brings. An unabashed conservative, Dillon is not afraid to fight for her ideals, and enjoys debating her viewpoints with peers and professors alike.

Her advisor, Sohail Hashmi, an international relations professor, has known Dillon  since the beginning of her sophomore year. “I admire the courage of her convictions,” said Hashmi. “She's fearless in expressing her views but always willing to consider counterarguments. My conversations with her are frequently productive and never dull—and her outspoken conservatism is precisely what puts the ‘liberal’ in the liberal arts learning we undertake at Mount Holyoke.”

Dillon, a Chicopee, Massachusetts native, recently shared her thoughts about her experience at Mount Holyoke.

What made you come to Mount Holyoke?

I’m really close to my family, especially my siblings, and I wanted to stay close to them. When I was looking into colleges, it came down to the University of Massachusetts Amherst or Mount Holyoke. I was drawn to Mount Holyoke’s beautiful campus, small class sizes, and generous financial aid. I knew I was going to Mount Holyoke when I was on my tour and I walked into the library and I saw that Chihuly sculpture. It was so striking! I was like, “All right, I’m going to Mount Holyoke. That decided it.”

As a political conservative, how has your experience at Mount Holyoke been?

Coming to Mount Holyoke was a bit of a culture shock for me. My first semester I took gender studies, and I learned so much. It was really good but it wasn’t what I expected. I was introduced to an entirely new way of thinking, because in high school we did not talk much about these issues. I didn’t always agree with the things I was hearing, but I certainly learned a lot.

I am not someone who stays quiet during class. I am really lucky to be in a place where I am not only allowed to express my opinions and debate openly in class, I am encouraged to. I am often around conservative and libertarian activists from different parts of the country and they tell me, “My professors are so liberal. I can’t speak up in class because I’m afraid of getting a bad grade.” That is not the case at Mount Holyoke. It’s not a secret that the majority of Mount Holyoke students do not share the same political opinions as me, and I’ve had some professors who clearly disagree with my views. However, the majority of them love it when I come out and debate. Some of my professors will call on me when I don’t even have my hand up because they like having another view. It helps the entire class. It helps them teach, it helps other students learn, and it helps me learn.

With students, it’s very similar. We have really good conversations. I think I’ve even convinced a few other students of my points, because the College Republicans grew in membership this year. When talking with other students, I’ll make a point and they’ll say, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and then they’ll formulate a counterargument and we’ll go back and forth for a while. But it’s not hostile. I always stay respectful of them and they do with me, and we get along great. I’ve been asked to help with study groups for exams because students want to know my opinion so that they know how to counter it in their essays. There is a really good dynamic.

How has your experience been socially as a conservative on campus?

There is a divide on campus between students who know me and those who just know I am a conservative. When students know me as an individual, we get along despite our ideological differences. But I think many of the students who don’t know me have a negative perception of conservatives, and I have been working hard to change that.

When I am around other conservatives my age, I am often called a RINO—Republican In Name Only—and they think I’m the liberal in the room. That’s because I like to identify as a “conservatarian”—a mix of conservatism and libertarianism—due to my inclination to be socially progressive and fiscally conservative in comparison to the majority of other conservatives. The main issues I focus on in my activism are free speech and gun rights. I also work hard to encourage other young people to get involved in politics and express their own views on campus through writing and activism.

Most conservatives will isolate themselves from liberals but I don’t do that at all. Most of my friends are liberals.

Where do you see yourself heading after Mount Holyoke?

When I started at Mount Holyoke I had planned to go into the air force, and then possibly law school. I was hoping I would get a job at the State Department. I’d still love to do all that, but now many other opportunities are being offered to me.

A year ago I never would have imagined that I would have 24,000 Twitter followers, and I recently announced my own show on RSBN-TV called Raised Right.

Right now I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do after I graduate. I feel like there are so many paths in front of me, but making a decision is very difficult. I have already received job offers from some nonprofits and media companies for after graduation.

I’m thinking of going into journalism and focusing on Middle Eastern politics. I’m studying abroad in Israel next semester and have already been applying for different opportunities to work in the Middle East this summer—so we’ll see where it goes!

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