The Importance of Political Diversity On College Campuses
Your political opinion does not matter. The opinion you should be listening to is not your own. Nor is it anyone who agrees with you. The individuals you should be listening to and actively seeking out are those whose political ideology differs from your own. While listening to individuals who reaffirm your political beliefs may be personally gratifying, there is no significant benefits that can be attributed to surrounding yourself with purely like-minded people. The only benefits that this practice provides is that it enables an individual to feel comfortable when discussing politics and it allows them to be more open to sharing their “own” political beliefs. But the only reason that they are sharing “their” beliefs is because it closely resembles that of the rest of their peers. On the contrary, engaging with individuals who have ideological views that differ from your own has substantial beneficial effects that not only increase your intelligence, but additionally, equip you with the skill set necessary to work in a global and diverse environment, as well as to be successful in their professional endeavors.
The most important strategy a college or university can employ to prepare their students for future success is to create a diverse environment, which extends beyond the traditional understanding of diversity in the context of the college atmosphere. While diversity based upon sexual identity, race, socioeconomic status, and gender are important and have been the predominate focus of diversity efforts on college campuses, intellectual diversity has received minimal attention, yet warrants more. The majority of college campuses are additionally dominated by a liberal ideology that is further ingrained in the campus atmosphere as the result of three-quarters of American college professors self-identify as liberal. But this trend is not limited to only liberal campuses; it also exists on campuses that are overwhelmingly conservative.
This lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses throughout the United States creates several roadblocks to fostering a political environment that incentivizes individuals of all political leanings to express their views. First, students of ideological beliefs that are contrary to those of their peers are unlikely to share these beliefs, out of fear of harassment and public humiliation. You might be thinking to yourself right now that harassment based upon political or intellectual beliefs is non-existent, or at the least rare, but I am asking you to think again. In fact, extensive research has found that individuals are more willing to express animosity towards, and engage in discriminatory behavior against, political minorities as compared to racial minorities.
Wait! Before you dismiss these conclusions as invalid, falsified by commentators and researchers at alt-right news organizations such as Breitbart, you should know that these conclusions were drawn by two highly distinguished professors, Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University and Sean J. Westwood of Princeton University. Additionally, this research is not meant to delegitimize or in any way devalue the discriminatory experiences racial minorities have to experience in the United States. Instead it is meant to shed light upon the fact that discrimination based upon political affiliation has been undermined and underrepresented in the past.
Their research confirmed that animosity towards the opposing party and its members are ingrained in our thinking during political socialization, and is often externalized, as there are no institutional pressures in place to prevent such behavior and discrimination from occurring. Lastly, Iyengar and Westwood provide two explanations for why there are no institutional pressures to discourage discriminatory behavior based upon ideological beliefs, unlike in the context of racial discrimination. First, as the purpose of a two party system is often characterized as the creation parties that exist in direct opposition of each other, it is natural for open hostility to be conveyed between members of different political parties. Secondly, as individuals are able to select their political affiliation, as opposed to inheriting it, people display a greater incentive to hold those accountable for beliefs that differ from their own.
The most important strategy a college or university can employ to prepare their students for future success is to create a diverse environment, which extends beyond the traditional understanding of diversity in the context of the college atmosphere.
An additional roadblock to engaging in open political dialogue on college campuses throughout the United States is the result of students’ perceptions of their professors, which is facilitated by the American population's’ opinions on the state of current academic colleges. A special report for the Chronicle of Higher Education found that half of the American population believe that American colleges and universities inappropriately introduce a liberal bias into their students’ higher education. Thus, unsurprisingly, the majority of college students are skeptical of their professors in college. Linvell and Havice’s research on potential political biases on college campuses affirms that college students have several perceptions about their professors. Most significantly, respondents demonstrated a willingness to accept the notion that students should modify their ideological beliefs in the classroom to correspond with those of the professor, in order to avoid penalties and preserve their grade.
Unfortunately, as I am a moderate Republican, and thus a political minority on American University’s campus, I have personally censored my beliefs in class out of fear of jeopardizing my grade. On occasion I have refused to share my political beliefs in class or have modified these beliefs in such a way to be deemed “acceptable.” Even when a professor this semester asked if anyone in the class attended a Republican event that occurred in Washington DC — which I had attended — I remained silent, even though the professor hinted at being sympathetic to the cause. While this may seem irrational to some of you, I assure you that this is a rational response and is corroborated by accounts of several of my Republican peers and friends. If you are still skeptical of this notion, I am challenging you to ask yourselves whether you would put your grade in potential danger by sharing a stance that differs from that of the professor or remain silent and preserve your grade? In no way am I attempting to criticize the world-renowned and highly-distinguished faculty at American University, so do not interpret my message incorrectly. In fact, I personally believe that the majority of the professors would never let politics alter their academic integrity in terms of grading. Yet, what I am alluding to is that fear is rooted for intellectual minorities on college campuses in the fact that one cannot assert, with absolute certainty, that a professor will not alter a student’s grade for expressing alternative political opinions.
Colleges and universities in the United States should strive to promote academic diversity because there are significant and positive effects that it has on students. Fostering a diverse environment has been proven to alter the dynamics of a group in such a way that promotes creativity and innovation. By promoting innovation on college campuses, graduates of college will become more desirable to employers, as companies and governmental organizations are yearning for employees that will develop and utilize unique strategies to combat emerging threats and generate solutions to problems originating from a globalized economy. Further, research has proven that intellectual and political diversity in corporations and colleges incites individuals to work harder, as we naturally become increasingly more competitive and engage in deeper analytical thought. Diversity also expands one’s worldliness, dictates that individuals consider and understand multiple perspectives, and allows for an individual to increase their knowledge by stepping out of their comfort zone. Thus, not only will students perform better in college, but they will additionally develop a marketable skill set that will make them more attractive to employers in the job market.
When I came to American University, I was used to debating like-minded individuals. Let me be the first one to tell you how useless it is to debate someone who holds a political ideology similar to your own. You do not learn anything new, nor do you develop the ability to understand how an individual comes to conclusions that differ from your own. Yet, once I realized that I could no longer be “lazy” when engaging in political arguments if I wished to win a debate, I began to work harder and alter my behavior in such a way that allowed me to become a better debater and a more intelligent individual. I started to begin to consider alternative viewpoints to my own, in order to understand other perspectives on the issue, and thus, understand the fundamental basis for their position. I began to excel in debate. By remaining open minded when analyzing individuals’ viewpoints that were different from my own, I have modified some of my positions on issues that I was previously misinformed about. In simpler terms, the greatest academic and personal growth that I have displayed in my brief time at American University is the willingness to understand and sometimes even adopt the viewpoint of those who disagree with me, and I have benefited greatly from doing so.
No matter the abuse, harassment, or intolerance you face as the result of your political ideologies, do not let others intimidate you into modifying your beliefs.
What does the outlook on intellectual diversity on college campuses look like? Despite the seemingly increase in divisiveness in America and on college campuses throughout the United States based upon differences in political ideology as a result of the 2016 Presidential Election, the outlook for intellectual diversity is actually optimistic. Colleges and universities throughout the United States have, in the last several years, begun to include preserving political ideology and diversity in their diversity plans to increase inclusion on campus. American University is one of these universities. According to the Center For Diversity and Inclusion’s website at American University, “American University embraces diversity in its broadest sense, including diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, nationality, disability, socioeconomic standing and intellectual viewpoint.” As this has already been a stated goal of American University and other colleges throughout the United States, I remain confident that the promotion of intellectual diversity will increase over time.
My final message is to intellectual minorities on college campuses. No matter the abuse, harassment, or intolerance you face as the result of your political ideologies, regardless of what those ideologies are, do not let others intimidate you into modifying your beliefs. Because it is your opinion that truly matters.