OPINION: Avoid echo chambers, intellectual growth is a part of the college experience

The Econ Journal Watch reports liberal college staff outnumber their conservative counterparts at a ratio of 12:1. This has led many to challenge that colleges are “indoctrinating” their students into a liberal ideology. However, the issue is much larger than a political leaning of faculty and staff. It’s a failure to promote an environment inclusive to students of all beliefs.

 

While colleges simply having a preference toward a political ideology isn’t necessarily a problem, allowing the political makeup of the staff to shift the climate of college campuses regarding discourse is. And unfortunately, a 2020 study by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shows this is the case.

 

This study surveyed 20,000 students across 55 American colleges to gather their attitudes toward political ideologies and discourse surrounding these topics. Based on this, they found that 73 percent of students who labeled themselves as “strong Republicans” reported feeling they couldn’t express their opinions due to how students, professors or administration would respond as opposed to 52 percent who labeled themselves “strong Democrat.”

 

This discrepancy even furthers in attitudes toward free speech in that they reported “More than 60 percent of extreme liberals said it’s ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ acceptable to shout down a speaker; compared to 15 percent for extreme conservatives” and that 13 percent of “extreme liberals” said using violence as a means to stop a speech or event from occurring on campus was “always” or “sometimes” acceptable as opposed to 6 percent of “extreme conservatives.” More than a quarter of “extreme liberals” said this was “rarely” acceptable compared to 8 percent of “extreme conservatives.”

 

Given these statistics, it’s no wonder so many students are scared to speak openly about their views, especially those with non-liberal ideologies given the likelihood of being shouted over by their peers with opposing views. Even among conservative students who ranked predominantly liberal institutions highly on being “open to speech,” 82 percent reported themselves self-censoring as opposed to 53 percent of moderates and 40 percent of liberals, according to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

 

Students aren’t the only ones with this fear, either. Based on a 2017 survey involving over 900 faculty conducted by Samuel J. Abrams, two-thirds of conservative professors avoided sharing their opinions out of fear of negative reactions from students and peers compared to one-third of liberal professors.

 

In this same survey, Abrams also found that seven in 10 professors and half of administrators said they wanted to create an open environment, even if that meant offending some. So, even though a bit over half of administrators and professors strive to create an open environment for students to discuss ideas openly, they receive pushback from their peers and worry students may voice similar concerns.

 

This doesn’t mean any of these staffers are ill-intentioned either, as certain things shouldn’t be accepted during civil discourse such as bigotry, but it’s also important to recognize not everything that offends someone is bigoted either. The idea of creating an environment to discuss ideas without anyone getting offended sounds wonderful, but in practice, alienates students from wanting to discuss their own political opinions. Face it, when talking about politics, someone is going to be offended by everything and it’s going to lead to heated discussions. The entire act of attempting to regulate what ideologies should be discussed will, and has, offended many people in its own right.

 

The problem surrounding the political divide on college campuses is a lot larger than a one-sided political leaning, to which it’s often reduced. It can even be partly explained by the higher tendency toward liberal ideology among those with a higher education, but in no way justifies suppressing conservative ideas. The environment created is becoming less and less open to non ‘woke’ viewpoints to the point that students won’t even discuss it. The push attempting to be accepting and not offend people is too contradictory to work in the same environment.

 

Colleges may not be able to change the ideological leaning of their staff, nor should they, but rather recognize the larger problem is failing to create an environment open to ideas from students and faculty of all ideologies. In their effort to accept everyone, they’ve alienated many and can only begin to unravel this culture by encouraging their faculty to discuss ideas with their students from all perspectives and encourage discourse between them.

 

Disagreeing with someone ideologically doesn’t inherently make a discussion hostile, but teaches students to understand perspectives outside their own. Social pressures must stop attempting to conform everyone on their campus to value acceptance, but rather promote it by not denying them the ability to be open about their thoughts. Only when everyone is allowed the freedom to offend each other will diversity of thought enter back into the culture of the college campus.

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