We’ve all probably heard of the “Foggy Bottom bubble.” We’re told to explore other areas of D.C. during our time at GW and not to get too comfortable just living in the space between Pennsylvania and Virginia avenues. But there’s another bubble GW students live in – the liberal bubble.
Since the results of the U.S. presidential election, students, professors, the media and others have tried to explain why many of us were surprised by the election’s results. While some blame the echo chamber of ideas many people of live in, especially on the internet, students and academics can also blame the liberal bubble around GW and other university campuses, for the fact that so many young people were blindsided by the results.
The liberal bubble is a group of progressive or liberal-minded people who don’t know or hear the opinions of those who disagree with their political viewpoints. In 2016, this bubble separated students on campus from the electorate that voted for Donald Trump. Students need to recognize that we live in an echo chamber, and while many of our liberal or progressive views might create this bubble, it’s not our opinions that are an issue – it’s the restrictiveness of the bubble.
In an ideal higher education environment, there would be a free flow of ideas and a collection of both conservative and liberal ideologies. But in reality, campuses are usually hotbeds for liberal thought. Liberal bubbles often encapsulate university campuses based on the progressive bend of college students and professors. And most cities tend to be more liberal than other parts of the U.S. It’s no wonder, then, at a school like GW that’s located in D.C., that most students, staff and faculty share left-leaning opinions.
We can’t completely pop the liberal bubble because we are a population of students that leans left, and we will probably always be that kind of student body. But there are things we can and should do to make the bubble less restrictive, so that we become a more educated student body and so that we aren’t so shocked when politics don’t go our way.
It’s easy for students to speak up when they know they are part of the majority. A student at GW with liberal views probably feels little to no judgment for arguing the legitimacy of their viewpoints, and so most of us hear that side of any political argument frequently and loudly. But if we really want to learn about other types of people with different views, it’s up to those who are part of the majority to listen to those with more conservative ideas. Vilifying and marginalizing ideas that go against the grain of the rest of the student population will only put us at a disadvantage when we go out into the real world and our opinions are tested. The University must be a sounding board for more than one kind of political speech.
Of course, it isn’t likely that liberal students are going to want to give up their megaphone to hear conservative opinions. And that’s OK – it can be daunting to engage in debate with someone who may have different morals and reasoning. But if students in the majority aren’t willing to listen to and respect opposing viewpoints, GW’s campus will continue to restrict substantive political debate.
University officials have their own work to do to make campus as bipartisan and welcoming to all viewpoints as possible. Most studies show that people who pursue careers in academia tend to be liberal. And although students can and should expect their professors to be more progressive, it’s not for a university to take a political stance that hinders conversation. After the student walk-out after the election, the University posted a picture to its social media accounts with the caption, “No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here.” On the outset, the caption seems harmless, but that phrase was used as a chant at the politically charged protest in Kogan Plaza. By repeating the remark, the University took a side in an argument that may have stopped conservative voices from being heard.
Professors also have the responsibility to make classrooms open for constructive conversations. Sometimes, professors make their political positions pretty obvious. While professors shouldn’t be afraid to speak up in class and exercise their academic freedom, their comments shouldn’t intimidate students who disagree with them.
Professors should be able to foster conversations while providing their own expert moderation and commentaries. They shouldn’t be telling students that their opinions are wrong or unimportant, or preach their own opinions so heavily that it makes students with different opinions uncomfortable. Professors can run the risk of silencing students, instead of encouraging them to take part in discussions. And with people holding minority opinions unwilling to take part in class conversations, students will never be able to try to understand both sides of an issue.
GW will likely always have a liberal-leaning student population, and conservative students who come here should be prepared to feel push back on campus. However, it’s on professors, administrators and those in the conservative minority and liberal majority to work together to challenge each others’ thoughts and work toward popping that liberal bubble.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.
This article appeared in the December 5, 2016 issue of the Hatchet.