It’s no secret that college campuses across the country tend to be liberal-leaning. But while conservative students may be outnumbered at many institutions, a poll of students at the University of Nebraska’s four campuses conducted earlier this month found that most students – including students who identify as conservative – don’t feel intimidated to express their beliefs.
While that may be true of students at those schools, the same can’t be said at GW. In interviews, more than 15 students pointed out that Republican students don’t often run for positions in the Student Association because they fear that their thoughts and opinions will not be valued. This feeling is not exclusive to the SA and on a largely liberal campus, students with differing political opinions likely feel ostracized beyond the student government in settings like the classroom as well.
Students should feel comfortable expressing their opinion on campus in all settings, but especially in the classroom. Professors, especially in departments like political science, international affairs and journalism, must put in the extra effort to make sure that students feel welcome in the classroom regardless of their political ideology.
While many factors play into a student’s experience at a university, education is the main reason students are here. Quality of education can be diminished if students cannot fully participate in the classroom. Whether students are studying politics or engineering, it is the responsibility of professors and teaching assistants to provide a learning environment in which students don’t feel afraid to express their own relevant opinions.
Conservative students should not be afraid of repercussions from a professor who has liberal views, and vice versa. In fact, professors should do their best to keep their own personal opinions out of the classroom to not alienate students on either side of the aisle.
The role of professors, especially in courses that are discussion-based, should be to mediate conversations between students instead of offering only their own thoughts and opinions. In some cases when an opposing view isn’t represented, often the conservative view, professors should argue on behalf of the other side of the argument to remind students there is more than one train of thought on each issue. Courses, especially those that have a focus on more controversial or contentious issues, should focus on the facts and figures and allow students to offer their own insights. A better learning environment is one in which every student can participate and learn from one another, and this cannot occur if all students do not feel welcome in that space.
When conservative students speak up, it benefits all students. Hearing opposing viewpoints is especially beneficial when many students come from liberal bubbles where they haven’t had their beliefs challenged. By speaking up, conservative students ensure that arguments and opinions expressed on either side are both factual and well-structured. Through this, all students are challenged to ensure their opinions are backed up by data. Without conservative students weighing into debates, our classrooms would be echo-chambers rather than places for discussion.
If conservative students want to feel more included outside of the classroom, they must advocate for themselves. Being conservative or liberal is a chosen ideology – not an identity that one is born with – so it’s not the responsibility of other students to make sure others are included.
It is understandable that conservative students feel like they’re a minority on campus. But they must acknowledge that their beliefs are something they choose to hold, and it’s their responsibility to speak up. Within the confines of the classroom, it’s essential that all students respect opposing viewpoints and all professors mediate between viewpoints without judging students for opposing their own.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Margot Dynes.