Political Differences in Jackson Hole Help to Create a More Educated Student Body

Back to Article
Back to Article

Political Differences in Jackson Hole Help to Create a More Educated Student Body

By Emma Talkoff

The political culture at Tam is perhaps easily explained by geography–with 54.4 percent of Marin voters registered as Democrats, the county is the third most liberal in the state, after San Francisco and Alameda, according to information published by the Secretary of State. California is among “blue states” which lean strongly towards liberalism. So how does Tam’s political atmosphere compare to that of a high school in another part of the country, where democratic views are not so universal, and the political makeup may be more varied?

Teton County, Wyoming, is a largely liberal outlier in an otherwise red state. “Political controversy is normal,” said junior Caitlin O’Shei of the area. O’Shei transferred to Tam this fall after spending two years at Jackson Hole High School in Teton County, where “there was a variation of political views.”

O’Shei described the political divisions among her peers in Jackson Hole as “more even” than those she has observed at Tam. O’Shei, who identifies herself as conservative, rued the lack of balance that she’s seen among Tam students’ approach to politics, and said that sharing political views at Tam can be a challenge.

James Lummis, a Jackson Hole senior and former classmate of O’Shei’s, noted the mixed political views in his area. “Most students are Democratic, [but] there are definitely some Republicans,” he said. Lummis described the political scene among Jackson Hole teenagers as debate-heavy, but added that in general it’s an “accepting community.”

O’Shei cited varied reactions to pro-life protests in the respective states as evidence of these starkly different political environment. In California, O’Shei has found herself alone amongst consistently pro-choice peers, who are “always astounded” to hear her views, while similar protests in Wyoming tended to incite a more “split” reaction, and garnered discussion rather than universal contempt.

Lummis and his classmate Sebastian Lopez agree that while most Jackson Hole students are Democratic, there’s a strong Republican presence as well. Conservatives, said Lopez, “are a significant group within the school,” and represent a strong counterpoint to the many liberal students in the county. Geography comes into play here as well as in Marin; Lopez said that, “kids who come from ranching and working class families are for the most part avid conservatives and Republicans on most issues.”

And in contrast to Marin, where most liberal teenagers will be checking the same boxes on ballots as their parents, O’Shei said that political division between parents and teens was common in Wyoming. “If kids were liberal, usually their parents weren’t,” she said. O’Shei herself previously found her beliefs pulled in a more liberal direction, in contrast with the conservative views of her family. Debate with peers and parents, and interest in the upcoming election, has inspired her to revisit her politics, a process that some obstinately liberal Tam students might do well to emulate.

Lummis has a similar philosophy where politics are concerned. Undecided himself, Lummis is reluctant to declare himself a Republican or Democrat before doing more research. “I feel like I haven’t studied enough of the current political scene,” he said. “It’s a really divisive topic, and I agree with some values on both sides.” Lummis’s parents and some of his peers, like O’Shei, have also adopted a much less one-sided view of politics, choosing to base their politics on individual issues rather than loyalty to Democratic or Republican politicians.

Some students, like Lopez, prefer this flexible political stance. “At the moment I clearly identify more with the stances of the Democratic party, but I’ll most likely register Republican,” said Lopez, who has grown up hearing a strongly Republican viewpoint from his father, and a clearly liberal one from his mother. Perhaps because of this familial debate, Lopez said that he, too, has been inspired to base his political opinions on outside sources.

“My views are certainly not identical to those of the rest of my family,” he said.”I have based all of my views on self-reflection, research, and independent thought.”

Lopez identified himself with the minority party in his county, but nonetheless felt that diversity of student opinion has allowed him to openly share his views. “I feel very comfortable sharing my political views at any time in the school,” he said. Despite the lively mix of political opinion in Jackson Hole, students seem to feel free to formulate unique political identities, unlike more homogenous communities where universal liberalism or conservatism put pressure on students to conform.

There are differences in the classroom as well, according to O’Shei. “Teachers at my old school were more careful about not being biased,” she said. One of the main contrasts that O’Shei has noticed since transferring to Tam are the ways in which teachers approach the topic of politics and the upcoming presidential election. Despite its location in a liberal county, O’Shei notes that teachers at Jackson Hole High School were adept at touching on controversial political topics and “tried to keep it objective.” Lummis agreed. “Teachers try to avoid [politics] and not impose their views on anyone,” he said.

At Tam, O’Shei has observed less objectivity, and more one-sidedness, in in-class political discussions. “Teachers here never talk about Romney,” she said.

Although on the surface Teton County might appear geographically poised for political controversy, according to O’Shei, living in a less politically homogenous area than Marin provided a harmony and freedom of opinion which she’s missed so far at Tam. Said the junior of her experience so far in our deeply blue county, “since moving to Tam I have to be careful about what I say.”