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MATT BURGESS: Welcome back to "The Free Mind Podcast," where we explore topics in western history, politics, philosophy, literature, and current events with a laser focus on seeking the truth and an adventurous disregard for ideological and academic fashions. I'm Matt Burgess, an assistant professor of environmental studies and faculty fellow of the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization at the University of Colorado Boulder. My guest today is Joey Fratino. Joey is a graduate of CU Boulder who served as the president of the CU Boulder of College Republicans until graduating in 2022. Our conversation explores the conservative student experience on campus. We discuss recent survey studies of conservative college student experiences on American campuses and how these compare to Joey's experience at CU. Joey Fratino, welcome to "The Free Mind Podcast."


JOEY FRATINO: Thanks for having me, Matt.


MATT BURGESS: Okay so, today's topic is the conservative student experience on campus, but to be honest, I really dislike political labels. And so, what I wanna start with before we get into the stuff that's maybe explicitly political is ask you a couple of questions that are designed to open the audience's mind and maybe also open your mind. Does that sound good? 


JOEY FRATINO: That sounds good.


MATT BURGESS: Okay, great. So, tell me a bit about yourself and try as hard as you can to not reference politics in doing so. So, where did you grow up? When you came to college, what was your major? What are your career goals? What are you passionate about?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, so I grew up in Parker, Colorado, which is a suburb southeast of Denver. When I came to college, I majored in finance and accounting and that's just because I really liked following current events and seeing how it affected business. I'm a numbers guy, so that's what led me to go into financing and accounting. I graduated from CU in May with a BS in Business Administration and an emphasis in finance and accounting. And I now live in Dallas, Texas and I'm a restructuring consultant where I advise bankrupt companies and help turn around their operations.


MATT BURGESS: Great. Congratulations on graduating, by the way.



JOEY FRATINO: Thank you.


MATT BURGESS: So, tell me just a little bit, what are you passionate about?


JOEY FRATINO: Yes, I'm just passionate about… I really enjoy learning new things. I like reading stuff, following current events, and learning about what's going on in the world. I love sports. I'm a huge baseball fan.This summer before I started my job I traveled across the country to visit, and I was trying to visit all 30 major league baseball stadiums, which was a good idea in the first place, but it's not very feasible to do in one summer. I ended up visiting 20 of the 30 stadiums.That was a good experience.




JOEY FRATINO: I traveled around the country and saw a bunch of the stadiums. I hope to do the remaining 10 like sometime next year or the year following that.


MATT BURGESS: That's awesome. I have actually a similar bucket list goal for hockey, but I think I'm only at seven or eight. So, good for you. Okay. So, now because your politics obviously are relevant to today's topic, now please do tell me about your politics, but don't just tell me about your politics. Tell me also about what are some ideas or things you've read or learned or experiences that shaped your political worldview?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, so, I've always been a big advocate of free markets. I'm very fiscally conservative. I'm extremely responsible with money. I definitely believe the government should be also fiscally responsible 'cause I can see how that will affect me in the future. And my political views really just started when I was growing up. I followed the elections in 2008 and 2012 very closely and I found I aligned a lot more with the Republican candidates rather than Democrat candidates, especially on economic and foreign policy issues. And then I just, it was something I became passionate about because I'm a very opinionated person. I definitely, if you ask me on a topic, I'm gonna tell you my opinion about it, but at the same time I don't think that I should be telling my opinion to everyone if I'm not actually working to try to advocate for my position. So, in high school I volunteered for like a few campaigns. I volunteered for the Marco Rubio presidential campaign. Like I was like students for Marco Rubio. I started a young conservative club of my high school with a few of my friends just to try to advocate for my ideas and make people more aware of them.


MATT BURGESS: Great. And then as I mentioned in the introduction, you're the president of the College Republicans, right when you were at CU?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, right. When I came to CU after May of my freshman year, the president of the College Republicans stepped down and I ran and took his position, and then I served as president for three years from 2019 to 2022. And that's actually how you and I got to know each other through the reducing polarization dialogues.


MATT BURGESS: Okay. So, one last question to set up the topic today. And the reason I'm gonna ask you this is that people tend to think of their political opponents and maybe even to some extent their political compatriots as fixed or monolithic. They believe this, we believe that and it never changes and there's no nuance. And so, to maybe break that down a little bit, can you tell me about something that you changed your mind on recently?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I guess something that I changed my mind on recently, there's a lot of stuff that I do change my mind on over time. I, obviously, have evolved over time since being involved in politics. One thing that I definitely have changed my mind on over the years is just how to view your political opponents. Like a lot of times I think people make a big mistake when they see their political opponents just as evil and that they're trying to be oppressive or something. But I've always, as I come to meet more people who disagree with my political views, they're definitely like most of them are in it for the right reasons. Like they think that their viewpoint is gonna improve the world. Like how I also think my viewpoints are gonna make society better. So, well that's definitely something that sounds like I was a high schooler. I've changed my view on where now I think that most people who are involved in politics, they're doing it because they think they can improve the world. Even though I might disagree with how they're trying to improve the world, I still respect them for what they're doing and realize they're in it for the right reasons.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, that's great. I think that's a great way to empathize with people even if you disagree with them is that you share a desire, basically, to make the world a better place. Okay, so now let's get more down to being on topic and talk about college. And so, the first thing I want to ask you was, overall how was your experience and how important of a role did your politics play or not play in your experience of college overall?


JOEY FRATINO:  Yeah, my experience in college overall, it was good. My politics definitely did play a big experience but at the same time I was the president of the College Republicans, so any potential conservative students to see you in the future, your experience doesn't have to be super political if you're not involved in politics like I am. But it definitely was more political than I was expecting and most of the time and just mainly from a lot of students at CU, they typically aren't exposed to Republicans in their day-to-day lives.

So, they're surprised when they meet somebody who disagrees with them on their views. A lot of times this is like the first time they're interacting with someone who shares an opposite opinion with them. And it's interesting to see how students react to that. Like some of them just just avoid you because they are non-confrontational and they don't wanna talk politics, which I don't, I'm also the type of person I don't like talking politics in like public settings but in classes and stuff, people definitely like get weird if they realize like you don't agree with them on issues.

So, it definitely does affect who you become friends with 'cause there's some people, we live in a very polarized society unfortunately and there are some people who aren't open to being friends with people with different political beliefs. And I think that's because a lot of people have this idea where like Republicans and Democrats are monolithic or all Republicans are 100% like Trump and then all Democrats are like 100% like Bernie Sanders. And when people are thinking like that, they can't view someone as an individual and so that causes them just to avoid a certain group of people even though you can have a wide diversity of viewpoints expressed in that group.

So there's a lot of times where people would have stereotypes about “oh, he's a Republican, this guy supports 100% what Trump supports,” which I'm not a big Trump fan, I don't support 100% of what he did. So, it's definitely something that made it difficult 'cause it's hard to explain to people like, “oh, I'm a Republican but I don't stand like with 100% of these same ideas” 'cause it's hard for people my age to not think in like a black and white situation and understand that there is a lot of different viewpoints that can be expressed under the word Republican or Democrat and like a wide variety of different opinions under those labels.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah. So, it sounds like, and I was actually gonna ask you more about this in a second, it sounds like there is this what we call in social psychology, effective polarization that basically people don't just disagree with each other, they dislike each other and don't wanna associate with each other. One follow-up question, did you ever meet anybody on campus, you know a fellow student in particular who discovered one of your views that they disagree with and reacted with curiosity and wanted to know more?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I definitely met a lot of students like that. Well I met a lot of people along the way, like a lot of the people I met, especially in the business school when I would talk to them. They found out they agreed with me on a lot of views, especially on economics but they voted Democrat because of social issues which I can understand for someone who's a college student. So, that was something interesting just going to a lot of people as they probed more on my viewpoints, they realized “oh, we're a lot more similar than what he thinks.” Like I'm not like these social conservatives that are portrayed in the media all the time. Like there's definitely different like labels of republicanism.

So, my goal with the College Republicans was basically because a lot of kids you're obviously in college, you're not not working, you're not paying taxes. So, it's hard to advocate to get people to vote Republican now while they're in college. My goal was just to give people a good impression with who I met throughout campus what a Republican is. So, in the future when people are older they have families, they have jobs, they're paying taxes and their ideas might have changed on government spending. They don't think of whatever the media stereotypes of Republicans to be all. They think of me and realize like, “oh, that Joey guy I met in college, he was pretty cool. I would be okay voting for Republicans or a member like that guy.”  But I think my goal is just  breaking down stereotypes.'Because as I said, a lot of people just assume that the world's black and white. I think it's one way or another. They don't understand there's a lot of gray involved under the labels.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, that's really interesting. Okay, so one thing I want to follow up on is you mentioned that some of the people that you had the most productive conversations about your politics with, even those that disagree, were in your major, business. And so, did your politics affect your choice of major when you were coming into college and in fact did it affect your choice of college, of which college to go to or to go to college?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, it didn't affect any of those choices. Like I mean I'm sure there's probably someone, I mean probably 'cause of the way I think, I'm a very ambitious person who wants to achieve things in my career. So, I'm assuming that's the main reason I wanted to go into business 'cause I like managing people, coming up with business ideas, running, like, getting financing and stuff in order for businesses.  So, I think just my politics really didn't affect that decision. But I would assume that if you're more depending on where you're on the political spectrum, that probably does impact what you prioritize in your life.

Like what I prioritize in my life aligns with a business major. But if like you're more liberal, like my brother, he's more liberal, he's empathetic, he cares a lot more about affecting people's lives. He decided to become a teacher and I think that's more 'cause he prioritized helping people more rather than achievements in a business world. So, I can see politics kind of affecting that but it didn't affect my major choice overtly. Obviously my political leanings did not affect my choice to go CU Boulder. I knew what I was getting myself into but I still decided to go to CU despite the reputation of it being an extremely liberal school. So, it did not affect my college choice.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah and we'll get back to the reputation a little bit in a second because there's some interesting nuance there actually where there on the one hand is the reputation for having a particular climate. But if you look at policies, CU actually has some policies that conservatives sometimes advocate for. So, things like a very strong free speech policy and non-discrimination policy that explicitly includes political affiliation, political philosophy. But we'll dig into it in a second. 

To paraphrase what you just said, it sounds like in regarding your major choice, it wasn't that your politics and your major were unrelated but they were both influenced by a deeper underlying set of priorities as opposed to one directly influencing the other. Is that a fair paraphrasing?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, that's the correct paraphrasing.


MATT BURGESS: Okay, so one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on was that there's a lot of, as I'm sure you've seen, consternation among public conservative and many moderate public intellectuals about the state of college campuses and about the implications of the state of college campuses for both the conservative student experience and the general intellectual environment. And so, I want to go through some specific critiques of college campuses that I've heard and ask you about them and, if possible, try your best to be as accurate as you can. Don't try to paint it one way or the other, just try to summarize your experiences as accurately and honestly as you can.

So first, if you had to guess what fraction of the professors that you had would you guess were identifiably liberal? And I don't just mean, you know, I think this person might have been a liberal, the things that they said, you know, or I don't know their social media presence or whatever pretty strongly signaled that they were liberal.


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I would say probably around 50% concentrated outside of like non-business school classes. But there were some business school professors who also was clear that they're liberals.


MATT BURGESS: Okay, and then same question for conservatives.


JOEY FRATINO: I would say I had only had like one conservative professor and he was the visiting conservative scholar at the Benson Center that year. So it was pretty explicit that he was conservative.


MATT BURGESS: Sure. And then that leaves a pretty large fraction of your professors in the remainder. And would you describe those as apolitical or maybe intentionally cautious about revealing their politics or maybe they were teaching you calculus where it just would never have come up and how would you know?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, yeah I would say most of them were teaching like a math-based thing where it would've never come up. And then I also had a few professors who were just apolitical and they would play devil's advocate and advocate in classes, like business law. There was a class freshman year called World of Business, for the Professors their job was basically just to play devil's advocate, be like advocate for this one viewpoint and then the student advocates for it and then their goal is to rip apart the arguments on both sides. So, we obviously can never tell what their political views were because they were attacking both sides of the issue and finding the weak points in the arguments.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, no that's certainly something that I try to do is play a little bit of devil's advocate in my classes. Okay so, follow-up question and I wanna preface this and maybe I should have prefaced the previous question with this also. I want our conversation about these next few questions to be describing general patterns. Please don't kind of single out any particular professor or particular class in a way that would be identifiable. Just because that's not what we're trying to do. You haven't done that. So, of the half of your professors that you would say were identifiably liberal, what fraction of those would you say were actively pushing an agenda that you felt was political beyond presenting the fact-based material of their discipline?


JOEY FRATINO:Yeah, so I'd say the ones that I clearly could identify as liberals, I'd say probably like so I said 50% of the professors I had were clearly identified themselves as liberals, probably about like 90% of those professors they were advocating for an agenda in the class. 'Cause the reason I could tell their politics is 'cause they would start the class and then they'd talk about  what was going on in the news. Like whatever was going on involving Trump, whatever was going on involving the 2020 election and there was a clear slant to what they were saying. Or like the history classes or like liberal art classes where they would talk about historical events in a certain way where you clearly could tell they were pushing an agenda and most of these professors would just lecture. So, they wouldn't give an opportunity for students to express their viewpoints.

They just would stand in front of the class and kind of use the bully pulpit and just keep on talking about their viewpoints and never ask like” oh, what do the students think about this” and allow the class to have a discussion. That's how I was able to tell that they were clearly liberals 'cause they specifically took, just spent the class lecturing us on their beliefs rather than having us say what our beliefs are and then being us going around talking about different beliefs and different points of mind. They didn't let an alternative perspective be heard in the class.


MATT BURGESS: Okay, so follow-up questions. So we're talking, it sounds like we're talking about something like a quarter of your professors that you felt were pushing an agenda. Did you get the sense that your peers, even if they were sympathetic to the agenda, were aware that the professors were pushing an agenda? Or do you think that they were unaware and thought that they were being presented with a balanced perspective?


JOEY FRATINO: I mean, I think most of my peers, so I'm gonna preface this, I always sat in the front row of the class. I was always sitting next to the kids who were listening the most and paying attention the most. They I think could clearly tell that the professor had an agenda but then I'm not sure about the kids who sat farther back in the class and really weren't paying as close attention. They might have thought that it was a balanced viewpoint if they weren't paying that much attention. But I think it's pretty clear if you were paying attention to the whole class and seeing that, “oh they're not just advocating for one or they're advocating for one side rather than just showing multiple views of the issue.”


MATT BURGESS: Okay, yeah that's helpful. So, to maybe put a slightly finer point on it, to the extent that these professors that you encountered, were trying to indoctrinate as some people might say students  into a particular worldview, do you think that it was effective in the sense that, do you think that there were, or did you notice any reasonably large fraction of students that you encountered in these classes whose opinions seemed to be influenced in the direction that the professors were trying to influence them? Or was it mostly the professors stating their view and some people agreed with them and some people didn't but it wasn't really affecting anyone else's opinion?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I mean I would say for the most part, I would say the professors are not not that effective just because if you think about a lot of kids, they're not really paying attention in college classes so they're not, especially the ones who don't attend most of the classes. So, I don't think that they're persuading many people. Obviously depends on the class and depends on the topic.

So, there are definitely some classes where I think the professor could influence viewpoints. I think it's done more of like minor political issues that people aren't as aware of. But otherwise I think most people, they go in with a viewpoint in these classes and they leave with a similar viewpoint. They either dismiss what the professor's saying or they can 100% agree with it. But I think for some more minor issues that are as a little bit harder to point and see as overtly politic political, so if you were talking about  I don't know like tax policies or something or not something specifically relating to an election, then I think you'd be able to, the professor's able to persuade more people 'cause more people aren't really, they don't know as much about the issue going in, so they don't have strong beliefs going in to start with. So, that enables professors to shift viewpoints. But overall I don't really think that it's that effective, that the professors are that effective at pushing their viewpoints.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, this actually matches what I've seen in national studies like groups like Heterodox academy in a really interesting way. So, it's a fact that nationally the professorial as a whole, in fact in every discipline but extremely so in some disciplines skews liberal. So, the liberal/conservative ratio I wanna say is something like three or four to one in business and economics but you know 60 to one, a 100 to one, 200 to one in some of the humanities disciplines for example, especially in campuses in liberal parts of the country. 

But it's also the case that the few studies I've seen that have looked at to what extent professors are actually influencing students' views systematically, the answer seems to be not much. So, for example, students' self-reported political affiliations are quite stable across their four years. And so it sounds like that kind of matches what you're saying experientially that basically there's some professors, although a minority, and I think it's important for our listeners to hear that because probably some of our listeners think it's a larger fraction than that, certainly are trying to indoctrinate perhaps, but it's in many ways not working. Does that match your experience?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah that matches my experience.


MATT BURGESS: Okay. So let's talk about self-censorship because that's another topic that comes up a lot in the context of the conservative student experience on campus. So, did you ever find that you were afraid to share your opinions in class and what were the sorts of topics that you found yourself feeling this way on and or maybe what are the sorts of classes?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, so most classes I was never afraid to share my opinion and that's just because I'm extremely, extremely confident and I'm willing to express my opinion even though it's gonna be unpopular. But there are certainly times where you self-censor.

So, I think a bigger thing is for the listeners. I think a lot of students don't self-censor because of what the professor would say. It's that they're self-censoring from what other fellow students would think. I think that we're more concerned if you expressed one viewpoint and a bunch of people in your class disagree with that, it could give you a social stigma that's gonna negatively affect you. Like you might not be invited to go to fun events or you might be shunned by them.

So, I think that self-censorship is definitely something more like you're doing it not because of the professor but because you're with the fellow students in the class. And for me there was never a time where I self-censored in a class. I mean, I had one history class where they were talking a lot about race issues. I kind of self-censored in there because social issues are a lot more harder to talk about than economic or like foreign policy issues if you say something, phrase something the wrong way, then things could really go south quickly. So, I just kind of self-censored in there because that could get me in trouble. But otherwise most of the time I was pretty confident and was able to talk about my beliefs.


MATT BURGESS: Great. So there are a couple of things I want to follow up on. The first one is,  it sounds like you validated national statistics again and in fact, I've also run similar surveys in my own class. In your report, the main fear that drives self-censorship is fear of one's peers rather than fear of one's professors. But quick follow up there and again don't single anybody out in particular but did you ever have a class where you felt like your grade depended on you asserting a particular opinion?


JOEY FRATINO: No I did not. I always felt that most of my classes were business school classes so you really weren't expressing many opinions in there. So, I did not really feel that. Some of the history classes, I definitely felt that I couldn't write a paper critical of what the professors were saying. Like I kind of had to go their way or the highway on their interpretation of the historical events. Not in my business school classes, but some of the history classes I took, I definitely felt that it wouldn't be the best idea to disagree with the professor in a paper.


MATT BURGESS: Okay, but even then, would it be fair to say that this was something you were inferring as opposed to something that was being expressed to you?


JOEY FRATINO:Yeah, it was something that was more inferring. And the reason why I said just likeI inferred that is because if you look at the book materials for their class, they all advocate one viewpoint. The professor is advocating for the specific viewpoint of the historical event. So, like in that situation it's probably best not to deviate from their interpretation since they're basically pulling all their class sources from it and they're pulling and all their lectures are about that.


MATT BURGESS: Gotcha. So, another question I want to ask you following up on the similar theme basically in the spirit is steel manning the other side. So for the listeners who don't know what I mean by steel manning, what I mean is trying to understand and articulate the strongest possible case for whatever the opposing side is to what idea you're arguing or exploring at the time. And so, if the idea is that self-censorship is pervasive and certainly if you just ask students if they self-censor in their classes, it's well over 50% in the surveys they've done in my classes and the national surveys that I've read that report doing that. 

But one of the critiques that sometimes leveled at those surveys is, isn't self-censorship just an ubiquitous part of the human experience? Isn't some level of self-censorship an important part of, you know, day-to-day interactions? Like if you're just walking down the street or you're meeting with your friends, you're not going to openly tell them all the time, you know, what you think about what they're wearing, for example, right? The person who does that isn't particularly popular. And so to what extent does or does not that counterpoint explain the self-censorship? Like, is that all it is? Or is there something deeper there?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I mean for certain situations like obviously if you were at a social event and you were in a class that you weren't even talking about political topics, then you shouldn't be bringing up political issues. Like they say, if you're going on a first date never talk about religion or politics. Like that's not a great idea to talk about in a non out-of-context setting like that. But specifically in classes, I'd say if you're talking about a topic that is debatable in the class, so this is specifically a class where they bring up political topics, it's part of the class discussion and materials then I do still think people are self-censoring and it's not just because of human nature. I think, in that situation, it's because they're concerned to express an idea that might create conflict between them and another student or might affect them negatively socially.  So, although I agree with you that it's like in human nature to self-censor most of the time, I think in classes where political topics are clearly brought up, I don't think people are just self-censoring because of human nature. They're self-censoring just to protect their reputations.


MATT BURGESS: Right. And maybe I think what you're getting at is it's not only that they feel like they need to self-censor to protect their reputations, it's also maybe that opportunities for learning are being missed, right? If people are not able to openly air and discuss ideas in precisely a setting where that's the whole point. Is that right?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, that's right. Like I think one of the main points of going to college and taking these types of classes is to be able to learn how to advocate for your viewpoint and come up with a cohesive argument for it and then be able to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in your argument in your viewpoint along with other people. So, you can make your argument stronger. And if you don't have people expressing different viewpoints in these classes, then no one's learning how to do that and they're not really getting that value out of their education.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah. So one other way in which I wanna follow up on this is, is the following. It reminds me a little bit of, I grew up in Quebec as part of the English linguistic minority and one of the things that was interesting about that was that there were laws, so, for example, you couldn't go to an English public school in Quebec unless one of your parents had also gone to an English public school. I think also in Quebec specifically, but certainly at least in Canada. So for example, if you married another English American and moved to Quebec, you would have to send your kids to either French public school or private school, even if you and your wife don't speak a word of French and English is an official language of Canada. So, that was an example of a policy that in some ways was designed to favor the French and the French language and maybe the French people. But what was interesting about it was what it ended up doing was encouraging English people to learn French and encouraging French people to not learn English. And that asymmetry was actually in the long run beneficial  to English people in the job market  because it was a good thing to be bilingual and it certainly was a good thing to know English and have that access to the North American market. 

And so, bringing it back to the conservative/liberal issue in the classroom, do you ever feel like being a conservative and disproportionately predominantly, almost exclusively maybe having liberal professors, do you feel like that that in a way could have enhanced your learning in the sense that you were being exposed to the other side in a way that allowed you to think about what were the best ideas from both sides and maybe some of your peers that came in with similar views to the professors were not.


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I definitely think that. I mean, going in an environment where you're a minority with an idea like that is,  I think that's really helpful in the long run because first I was able to hear like opposite sides of the arguments from instead of like in the state where I grew up or went to a super conservative school where I would've not been able to say like, “oh, these are like very weak points of my arguments. I need to refine and then come up with better ideas,” or say like, “oh this is the reason why people think that policy's good even though I strongly disagree with it, that's the reason why they're pushing it.” Maybe I can find a solution to address the issue that's causing them to push it. It definitely broadens your viewpoint which makes you more aware of the world.

The really good thing is it enables you to be able to figure out how to get along with people anywhere. Because of my experience I can go to places like San Francisco or Manhattan and I can survive in a place where no one shares my political viewpoints. Like I am able to interact with people who have different opinions than me. I'm able to go from the most conservative areas of the country to the most liberal ones and I know how to interact with different types of people and be able to get along with them  because of this experience. Overall I think it was a beneficial experience for me in the long run.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, in fact the way you describe it, it almost sounds like you're living what people like Jonathan Haidt would describe as the antifragile student experience, right? The idea that we need to be exposing students to ideas and people and viewpoints that they find disagreeable precisely because it strengthens their intellectual habits, it strengthens their emotional habits and their overall wellbeing. So, that's great. I'm really glad to hear that. Let's also visit the flipside of that a little bit and that is, and again without you know, getting too specific in terms of specific people, were you ever made to feel unwelcome in a class on the basis of your political views?


JOEY FRATINO: I mean, like there definitely were times where I felt singled out like they were attacking conservatives for being selfish because they prioritize capitalism over caring for people and that's the situation where you definitely feel like you're excluded. You feel like you're being specifically targeted out but you just kinda sit there and learn you get through it. And so, there are times like that but you learn how to survive something like that. It all helps you become more open to criticism too and learn how they dealt with it too. It's definitely if you're gonna express a conservative viewpoint, people are gonna come back and try to refute you, refute your argument, so you gotta be ready to debate.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah. Okay. So, one other follow-up I want to ask on this general line of questioning and then we can pivot a little bit is  one of the things you said maybe five, 10 minutes ago, which was really interesting was about how in some ways by being president of the College Republicans  and by being open and vocal about your opinions and correct me if I'm paraphrasing inaccurately, but it sounds like basically that you were saying that to some extent among your peers you were somewhat of a known quantity and certainly one of the things that a lot of people who cover the culture wars and cancel culture and things like that closely observe is that it's often the people who get the most blowback and the most what you might say, bullying or ostracism, from their peers are actually people who are almost in the same place politically as the people who are bullying them but are just off a little bit on one issue. 

So, one example of a famous person who might fit this description would be J.K. Rowling, right? She's gotten a lot of blowback for her views on one specific issue, you know, relating to gender but on almost every other issue, she's pretty much a mainline liberal. And so, is there something to that, did you ever notice distinction in how maybe some of your peers were treating you as a conservative and kind of a very vocal conservative as opposed to either somebody who was more self-censoring in their opinions  and just kind of occasionally weighed into the fray or somebody who was, you know, usually quite liberal but occasionally deviated? Is there something to that or is that doesn't really match your experience?

JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I really never observed that.I mean obviously as I said earlier,  you're in college and learn people have a wide variety of viewpoints. If someone calls himself a Democratic, that can be anything ranging from moderate Democrats like Bernie Sanders, progressives, you never know what to expect. But I would say that for the most part, people never would like in the first place 'cause I was so known for being conservative, like people who were super liberal wouldn't be willing to affiliate with me in the first place because I would the first day of class if we started a political argument well, my hand would go up and I would talk about my viewpoints and I wouldn't be afraid to do that. So, I never really became friends with the people who likely would judge people like that because they already probably were avoiding me because of that. So, I never got like close enough to them to see like, “oh, did they judge like a democrat who disagrees with them on a few issues completely different from someone who agrees with them 100% of the time.” So, I really can't answer that question because I was such a known quantity  that people either were willing to affiliate with me or they weren't because I meant to make myself known who I was on the first day of class.


MATT BURGESS: Some famous people who have been canceled describe a similar phenomenon that they, you know, once they're out in their opinions, people either stick with them or shun them and many of them describe that as freeing in hindsight even though of course, you know, the process of being canceled itself can be quite traumatic and can certainly be existential to your livelihood, depending on who you are. Does that resonate at all with you? The idea that basically being open about who you are and kind of what you see is what you get? Did you find that that was freeing in a way?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I do find it's freeing because you can act like who you really are. You don't have to be covering up who you are and then showing other people not showing other people that you can be authentic and show what you really believe. So, that enables you to hang out with people who accept you for who you are and you don't have to put on some sort of grand act to appease other people. Like I'm not here to appease other people, I'm here to express my own beliefs. Like I'm not trying to change who I am to become someone's friend or get a certain grade in a class. Like I'm gonna be myself doing that. So, it is freeing because you can do what you want and don't have to be someone that you're not.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Okay, I feel like it's hard to have a conversation about the political climate on college campuses and not talk about the summer of 2020 and the year that followed that and, of course, COVID-19 was all happening at the same time. And so my question is,  there certainly was an impression that in the national conversation and in some media organizations that the tone of the conversation in, say the six months to a year that followed the summer of 2020 changed significantly. To what extent did you feel that on campus?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I definitely felt like following the pandemic that people, I would say before the pandemic people were a lot more open and affiliating with other people who disagreed with them. I think, after everyone was shut in their houses from like after March, 2020, to  like January, 2021, I think that people, since they were alone, became really insular and then made them not be able to see other people's viewpoints. Like a lot of people they went online to websites like Twitter and they went into basically a universe where they were able to only see an echo chamber where they were only able to see their viewpoints and not hear the other side. And so, I think that when people finally left their houses and reentered society and started interacting with other people, I think it was hard for a lot of people to realize, “oh, not everyone is gonna agree with you 100% of the time.” People who disagree with you aren't evil. Like they have their reasons behind disagreeing with you. But I think following the pandemic, people just became a lot less willing to work with other people, cooperate with other people, socialize with other other people that did not share their viewpoints.


MATT BURGESS: Interesting. And so, it sounds like you're saying that, in your experience, it had more to do  with the pandemic than with other specific events like say the events of summer 2020 and the protests.


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I mean, well it had to do with those events but I think the main thing was is that because people were stuck inside their houses, they weren't interacting with other people when those protests were happening, they were not hearing opinions expressed differently than ones that they wanted to agree with and everyone was in an echo chamber. So, when that was going on, we had an election going on then, you had racial protests, you had the police protest, everyone was only listening to their side of their issues. They became a lot less tolerant of being willing to hear someone who disagreed with them on the issue.

And I also think just like the topic as we really nod at the time of the pandemic, but I also think the mask thing has been a huge thing in our society of dividing people. Because it's like if you don't wear a mask, some people think you're evil. There's a huge divide between the two groups and they don't mesh well together. Some people refuse to affiliate with someone who's just not not gonna wear a mask. So, I think that it also really divided people and caused people to become a lot less tolerant of other viewpoints.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, although what I've seen at least on campus is that the fraction of folks that wear masks now and maybe even in the spring of 2022, so the last semester that you were there is that almost nobody wears masks now.  Do you think the political tension around masks, certainly there was huge political tension around masks at the beginning of the pandemic, but,


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, that tension's now gone, but I was just showing that as an issue that I think people were not willing to tolerate other opinions on and either one way or the highway.


MATT BURGESS: Yeah, well so the reason why I brought that up was during the time that masks were very politicized, do you find that rifts between your peers say that started about the mask issue? Did they die down with the salience of the mask issue or did the tension and friction and animosity remain to some extent?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, so I think tensions have kind of come down now that we're all back at our normal classroom setting. I definitely think when we were in that weird hybrid learning period where they had some classes in person and some don't and most people didn't even show up to the classes. I think at that time tensions were a lot higher just because people were inside their houses all the time and not really interacting with anybody outside of their immediate family and their close friend group. So, I think that definitely there's a period of adjusting. So, I think tensions have kind of eased since like early 2021 but there definitely is more unwillingness to tolerate different opinions than there was before the pandemic. 

The 2020 election issue still is huge. There's tons of people out there who won't hang, aren't willing to be friends with someone who voted differently from them in that election. So, you voted for Trump then people don't wanna be friends with you if they voted for Biden like it's one way or the highway in that issue. And that's a very dividing issue. Like it's actually really surprising when I go out in public, I don't know how many people asked who did I vote for in the 2020 election? Normally you never talk about politics when you first meet a person, but there's so many people asking that is they're immediately trying to decide, should I be hanging out with this person or am I not just gonna clearly eliminate them because they disagree with me politically.


MATT BURGESS: So one last general question and then I want to close with two specific questions about your advice both for colleges  and then for conservative prospective students and their parents. But one last general question is the following, as I've read, it seems like there's two big schools of thought on the near future of political polarization. 

So, one view I would say is more pessimistic, right? And the right wing version of that pessimistic view is that you know, the far left woke, whatever you want to call it, marched through major institutions, you know seems to be going on unabated. And so, the negative consequences in their view of that on these institutions in terms of, you know, maybe their neutrality in policy with respect to things like race and gender or their ability to seek the truth or whatever, don't show signs of getting better. 

And then the left wing version of the pessimistic view might be something like, you know, this “stop the steal” stuff, you know 2020 was just a dress rehearsal. There's all these “stop the steal” candidates that are running in these state level elections, you know, for things like Secretary of State, people who run elections to some extent even Congress people and senators. And so the crux of the pessimistic view is basically that as bad as polarization has been in the last few years, it's just gonna get worse.

There's also a view I've encountered which is more optimistic and that is that if you look at, for example, some measures of bipartisanship in Congress and also in the way news media describe the parties, this is something I just saw yesterday by some of those measures, polarization has actually started to come down since 2020. There's some sense that people have, that a lot of Americans are fed up with both of the political extremes and being more vocal about that both in public and at the ballot box. And so, my question to you I guess is in terms of political polarization, are you optimistic about the future or pessimistic about the future or neither or what?


JOEY FRATINO: I'm actually very, very pessimistic about polarization.  I really only see it getting worse because I see a negative feedback loop basically developing where left-wing institutions go after some like right wing issue and that causes right wing people to become more hard in their stance disassociates from that institution. And then you have this institution  that becomes more left-wing, they begin speaking condescendingly towards moral right leaning people. And so it just creates tension and basically I think that we're kind of self sorting as a society which is really concerning. Where people are moving neighborhoods because they wanna be with neighbors who share the same political opinions. They're moving jobs. They wanna work at a workplace where people share the same political opinions.  When things like social media, Twitter's not really helping with this, people just, they can go on their echo chambers and attack each other.

The main thing that I don't think a lot of people understand is that when you're attacking someone on Twitter, there's a face behind that name or someone sitting behind a computer who has expressed that viewpoint who actually is a real person who has thoughts and feelings like the person who is attacking them but also have thoughts and feelings and people don't think about that. They don't think about someone could actually disagree with me because we're entering a situation where I think everyone's just self-sorting, so people aren't encountering many people  who don't share the same viewpoints as them. So, that's causing them to come up with a viewpoint like, “oh, if you don't agree with my viewpoint on this, you're a fascist, you're wanting to destroy democracy” and that's just causing it to get worse. 

So, I don't really see a solution to it until I think we have people live in areas that are less polarized. I don't think it's a good situation for the country when you have urban areas going like 90% for Democrats and rural areas going like 90% for Republicans. That's not good for the country. Like we need to have more Republicans in big cities and more Democrats in rural areas because once you're in a situation where everyone's self sorted,  you're on a day-to-day basis, you're not really interacting with anyone who disagrees with you. So, you never actually see like a the face of a person who disagrees with you and that just causes you to think the worst of the people who disagree with you and it makes people also not be able to work together because they don't think about like, “oh, this person from a rural area lives an entirely different lifestyle than me or this person from urban area lives an entirely different lifestyle than me.” My solution doesn't like incorporating them. I'm very, very concerned about the self-sorting that's occurring in society and hoping that maybe in the next few years, maybe we'll see that dissipate somewhat. But currently, I'm not very optimistic about it. 


MATT BURGESS: So one quick follow-up on that. You said you live in Dallas, right?




MATT BURGESS: So Dallas is actually one of the epicenters of a very interesting trend that has, I believe, predates the pandemic but has has become amplified by the pandemic and that is people moving away from cities and states with large population densities and high housing prices which are disproportionately very, very blue and moving to less densely populated places where housing is cheaper. And there are some cities in particular, you know, medium, medium large cities, Dallas is one of them that are really capitalizing this economically. They're getting tons of new migrants coming in often from places that are blue like California and Texas is a relatively red state. Is that something that you see at all in your day-to-day life in Dallas and do you think that has the potential to somewhat improve the situation that you're describing?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, so the interesting thing that I like about Dallas is it's an urban area but it's like the city is pretty evenly divided politically. It's probably like 40% Republican and like 60% Democrats. So, it's not like New York City or San Francisco where it's 90% Democrat and 10% Republican. So, definitely it's not as polarized there because on a day-to-day basis you're interacting with people who have different opinions with you, which is good. So, like no one in a workplace is ever gonna go and begin talking about their political opinions, they know likely that half of the office probably just disagrees with them on that issue.

So, that's something I found refreshing about working in Dallas versus working in Denver.Like people in Denver were much more willing to express their political opinions in the office versus Dallas where I know where half of my colleagues are Democrats, half of them are Republicans. So, you're not really gonna say something like that. But the interesting thing about the people moving there, so I think someone did a poll on it and it's like 50% of the people moving there are Republican and like 50% are Democrat. So, the migration into Texas really isn't affecting the state's political leanings. If Republicans keep doing terribly in suburbs and cities, then that could negatively affect them, but it's not really affecting the state's politics overall.


MATT BURGESS: That's very interesting. Okay, we're almost out of time. So I want to make sure I get to my last couple of questions. And the first relates to campuses as a matter of policy, but also professors. I'd love to know, based on your experience, what do you think that we could do, either professors or campuses as a whole to make the intellectual environment more vibrant and more welcoming to all students from all points of view?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, so instead of lecturing and doing like lectures, I would do more classes where, I don't know, you can have like a recitation where people have to go and give their opinions like once a week or something because I know that's not feasible for the lecture classes, but there has to be a way where it's not just the teacher lecturing where you get students' input and you can hear different perspectives and students can work on like forming cohesive arguments and evaluating their fellow students' arguments, finding weak stuff and strong points in those arguments in order to make them better. So, I think the campus should try to limit the amount of time it's just the professor like preaching to a choir and increase the amount of times that students can talk and students can come up with arguments and make sure they're part of the classes.


MATT BURGESS: That's good advice. And one of the things that's interesting is sometimes for different reasons, that's actually also advice that people that are more on the left sometimes give colleges too so that you move more towards flip classrooms, more active learning. There's some evidence that students from disadvantaged backgrounds perform better in those kinds of classes. So, that's a really interesting convergence of recommendations from, you know, two different perspectives, different objectives. 

So, let me close by asking you about, now imagine a prospective student who's conservative and their parents. And remember a couple summers ago, I was a guest on Heidi Ganahl, who's now running for governor on her podcast.  I remember she mentioned hearing a lot from conservative students and conservative parents who were worried about the idea of sending their kids to college in what they perceive to be a politically potentially hostile environment. And so, I guess maybe just quickly tell us, to what extent would you say that the gestalt of your experience on campus was positive versus negative? And then maybe what are some pieces of advice that you might give to a senior in high school today who's conservative, who's thinking about coming to college?


JOEY FRATINO: I would start out and just say that the administration of CU is not that liberal. Like if you compare some of the stuff that CSU's done versus CU and CSU is supposed to be like the more conservative school, the CU administration's much more conservative, in their actions. So, I wouldn't just say discount CU because of their reputation, its administration has not been like that bad for conservatives.


MATT BURGESS: Just, just really quickly to follow up on that point, would you say, earlier you said that you came here with an idea, a particular idea of what Boulder was like. Would you say that you've been pleasantly surprised by what your experience actually was compared to that opinion?


JOEY FRATINO: I would say I was pleasantly surprised. Like CU is pretty tolerant of your viewpoints, running the young Republicans, I never faced discrimination in getting a classroom or anything we experience, or like getting money from the school to help fund our club. We never experienced any discrimination with that. So, that was definitely much more of a positive experience than I was expecting.


MATT BURGESS: That's great. Sorry, I derailed you a little bit, but what's your advice to a senior in high school who's conservative and their parents?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, just college in general, like go to the college that has the best program for you. I mean, don't make your entire life about politics. Like go figure out what you're passionate about, what you wanna study, what you wanna do, career opportunities, then go to the school that gives you the best financial package and has the best programs for that. I wouldn't let politics play such a big role in it because you're ultimately going to college to learn and if you're strong enough, in your viewpoints, then you're gonna leave college as a conservative.

I think a lot of parents are nervous about sending their kids because their kids don't really have, like, they aren't like me. They don't really have that big of a political opinion, but at the same time, to fit in in the world you have to be able to work with a diverse group of people with a diverse frame of mind and thoughts on politics. So it's good to leave the nest and go somewhere where you're gonna see people who disagree with you. So, if a liberal college ends up being in the places like the best, like is the best for your career opportunities and the best like financial option for you, then go there 'cause ultimately college is just like four years to learn.

So you'd just be learning, developing a stronger viewpoint and learning how to deal with people who disagree with you, which I think is huge as you're an adult and you interact with people with diverse frames of mind.


MATT BURGESS: That's great. And so, one last question, do you feel that going to college helped prepare you for your career that you're in now?


JOEY FRATINO: Yeah, I think it definitely helped prepare me for my career. I majored in finance and accounting, so I do like accounting stuff all day. But definitely I would say do a major that is related to what you wanna do because that will help get you in the field you want.


MATT BURGESS: Well Joey Fratino, thank you so much for joining us on "The Free Mind Podcast." It was great talking to you. Congratulations on graduating and I wish you the best of luck in the future.


JOEY FRATINO: Thanks Matt, nice talking to you.


MATT BURGESS: "The Free Mind Podcast" is produced by the Benson Center for the study of Western Civilization at the University of Colorado Boulder. You can email us feedback@freemindcolorado.edu or visit us online at colorado.edu/center/benson. You can also find us on social media. Our Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube accounts are all @bensoncenter. Our Instagram is @thebensoncenter and the Facebook is @brucedbensoncenter.