Liberal campuses stifle open discourse

By Clare McGreevy

Your college years should be a time to learn and grow in all areas of your life. This is made possible in large part through the free and open conversation that the campus and classroom environments are meant to foster.

Thanks to the College’s liberal learning requirements, all students find themselves in at least one discussion-based course that inevitably touches on critical political or social issues at some point in their undergraduate careers. These courses should serve as opportunities for all students to speak their minds and truly listen to the both similar and opposing opinions of their peers and professors.

But for many students, instead of being met with fair consideration, they feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions in class because of a hostile environment of unapologetically intolerant peers and professors alike.

Students fear backlash for sharing their opinions. (Flickr)

It is a widely known stereotype that college campuses are breeding grounds for far-left thinking and political activism. Throughout history, each young generation has brought about energized progressive thoughts and ideas as its members came of age to be politically active. This is an important contributing factor to the propulsion of sociopolitical change and development.

It makes sense that social and political discussions in college classrooms are generally liberally biased. However, complete disregard for opposing opinions should not be an accepted aspect of classroom culture. No political discussion should be one-sided or closed off to opposing views.

As an English major, many of my classes deal with contentious social issues. I witness the uncompromising hostility towards non-liberal opinions very often. I do not personally identify with any political party or ideology, and, like most independent individuals, I sometimes disagree with the far left agenda that is exclusively endorsed by class discussions. Most of my classmates and professors probably do not know this about me because it is seemingly impossible to voice dissenting opinions in the highly aggressive environment that is a discussion-based college course.

While I often disagree with the prevailing opinion, I am by no means the most passionate about my oppositional views. Before class begins or during small study group sessions, I sometimes hear peers discuss their discomfort with the intolerant classroom environment. Many of my close friends also often complain about the distress that they feel when sitting in the middle of a class discussion and feeling like they don’t have the freedom to speak their minds and contribute.

Instead of encouraging students to think critically and openly debate contentious topics, the current classroom environment stifles dissent and forces a singular way of thinking on its members. Students who openly disagree with the prevailing opinions are usually met with condescension, aggression and disbelief.

This situation is especially concerning considering the current national political climate.

Our society is dangerously divided between two extreme opposites with little voice or recognition afforded to those of us on middle ground. On both sides, today’s extremists refuse even to treat opponents with standard levels of civility.

After the 2016 election, I saw many posts on social media with messages along the lines of, “if you voted for Donald Trump, unfriend me.” This is the type of intolerance that makes me want to unfriend you regardless of my political opinions.

These extreme levels of intolerance can be seen regularly on campuses everywhere, and the College is no exception. Last semester, a pro-life display on green lawn was physically destroyed by students who disagreed with the demonstration’s message. Incidents like this are just larger and more public examples of the rampant intolerance that is manifested in everyday classroom discourse at the College.

This type of behavior is aggressive, hostile and dangerous for both the campus community and the larger culture of American politics and society. College campuses are crucial spots for sociopolitical reflection and activism, not to mention critical influencers over a large percentage of each generation entering adulthood and the workforce.

The maintenance of open, balanced and tolerant discourse is crucial to the preservation of a healthy society. We must all remain open minded and considerate of others’ opinions now more than ever. This starts here, on our campus and in the classroom. Professors and students alike need to be more tolerant of all perspectives, not just their own.

Students share opinions around campus

“Do you always feel comfortable expressing your opinion in class?”

Emma Cohen, a freshman criminology major. (Katherine Holt / Opinions Assistant)

“Honestly, I have some professors who would bash on what you say.”

Kailee Siedelhofer, a freshman psychology major. (Katherine Holt / Opinions Assistant)

“No, I’m afraid people are going to judge me for what I’m saying.”