A university setting is a unique space to build and develop one’s personal identity and beliefs where students are surrounded by their peers of similar in age, interests and academic caliber.
There are few other spaces where so many people can collectively think, question, unite, mobilize and engage in discourse. The potential for valuable discussion intellectual diversity is vast.
Does Wake Forest’s campus climate prevent its students from accessing this full potential?
It’s arguable that Wake Forest is a conservative campus; yet, aren’t the opinions that are generally visible and accessible more often progressive, liberal ones? Are liberal views construed as correct and more aligned with the truth than conservative ones?
Granted, my own views are very liberal. Whether issues are social or fiscal, I’m about as left-winged as it gets. But I was raised conservatively, and I only developed my own current positions over time by listening to those whose opinions differed from my own. And I’m still learning and growing every day.
I believe I hold many of my views because they seem to be respectful and inclusive of the most individuals, but who’s to say I’m right? Liberal views seem to often be coupled with a pompous disdain for other views; a progressive stance is a compassionate, open-minded one, but not to those who don’t share it.
Many individuals who hold conservative views on this campus and have commented on this issue have been rejected due to being perceived as privileged on this campus in other ways.
Those with conservative views certainly aren’t oppressed for holding them on this campus when so many others think similarly, especially when one considers that this is a privileged identity often coupled with other privileged identities. Individuals on this campus have been the targets of racial slurs, hate crimes, sexism, rape culture, xenophobia and many other identity-based offenses. I imagine it truly is personally difficult in some classroom settings to feel comfortable expressing conservative views when it seems as though the entire room, including the professor, will not be receptive to them.
A study published by “The New York Times” suggested that only two percent of English professors are Republicans and found that the highest number of first year college students since 1973 now consider themselves left of center.
Maybe the real issue, however, is not that there is a liberal slant among instructors, but that a truly open Wake Forest community dialogue does not exist.
A college campus can provide a necessary space for uncensored discourse. We will make mistakes, we will say harmful things, and we will hurt each other — we are all works in progress. But all students at Wake Forest need to feel comfortable truthfully and authentically expressing themselves.
There is a lot of pressure in campus discussions to come to the table already educated on all social justice issues and then to have already developed the most progressive viewpoints on those issues. Individuals who think differently but who may not have already had time to reconsider their views are shut down before they even have a chance. However, when it comes to social change, it is less important that the message is spoken and more important that it is heard.
The natural response to being called out aggressively for oppressive behavior is to become defensive and shut down.
This doesn’t create any space for the behavior to change or for growth to occur. Because we have been raised by, taught by and operate within oppressive systems, we forget the institutional roots of others biases and beliefs while overlooking our own.
Students need to remember to see classmates as peers, and authors of articles shared online as real people behind their screens. Respect the hard work of student organizations; when they make mistakes or take stances that seem deliberately aggressive, it’s easy to forget that they’re made up of hardworking individuals and that your words impact them.
We should extend to others the patience and compassion we would want for ourselves as growing, changing people.
Overall, we need to be hard on systems but soft on people, and we need to be receptive to engaging with differing viewpoints.
After all, the loudest liberal voices shouted that Hillary Clinton had already won, but someone very different will be entering the White House in a month. What are we missing when half the country’s — or half the campus’ — voices aren’t at the table?