The countdown has officially started. There is less than a month until thousands upon thousands of students flock to their new home for the next four years. People from all walks of life with varying beliefs, ideologies, cultures, and intellectual pursuits will amalgamate at college.
Nowadays, when so many U.S. colleges value the importance of having a well-rounded class of incoming students, I anticipate an incredibly diverse class to immerse myself in. I will meet some of the weirdest and most wonderful people at college. I will have the opportunity to explore courses from every spectrum. A liberal arts education awaits.
Liberal learning might resonate differently from student to student, but I hope we can all concur that it embraces learning in depth and breadth. I’m sure we’ve all heard from time to time, however tritely, that intellectual growth and self-discovery are some of the most important if not the most salient purposes of attending college. However, in light of the recent protests spearheaded by undergraduates at various universities in the US, which resulted in several prominent public figures declining their invitation to speak at commencement ceremonies, I fear that true “liberal” learning is threatened.
Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State declined to speak at Rutgers University. International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde rescinded the opportunity to speak at Smith College. Former University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau withdrew from Haverford College’s ceremony. Has banning commencement speakers become a notorious trend? Yes, in each of these cases, there was controversy and backlash regarding the issues that each speaker had been involved in. Yes, students have the right to respectfully protest when they disagree with a speaker’s beliefs and actions. But what has unfolded into a sequence of “liberal” undergraduates silencing voices that do not coincide with theirs, to me, goes against the fundamental right to freedom of speech.
We know that undergraduates are characterized as passionate and opinionated beings. However, it seems that being a liberal on campus today only encompasses one half of the definition. When it comes to being open-minded to divergent ideas and perspectives, these “liberal” undergraduates at times fall short. As reflected by these past incidents on campus, college kids are quick to voice their concerns, but also quick to shut down those of opposing notions.
How can someone be a liberal yet have such uncompromising views to the opposition? Are students really exposed to diversity at college when (as reported by Federal Election Commission data) 96% of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential race?
As Michael Bloomberg said in his address at the Harvard Commencement, “Great universities are places where people of all backgrounds, holding all beliefs, pursuing all questions, can come to study and debate their ideas–freely and openly.” I truly hope that this is the reality. The aim of going through higher education should teach one how to think, not what to think. Students will bring different values and ideals to campus, and consequently everyone’s voice should have the right to be heard, not just the ones who shout the loudest. We can say it’s human weakness that refuses to listen to ideologies that run counter to our own, but until we learn to weigh both sides of an issue free from prejudice, we have not progressed.
I dare say that a little controversy, when handled with sensitivity, can be a positive thing. To be challenged to engage with someone else’s point of view helps alleviate the ongoing tensions and conflicts within our immediate and more extended communities. Engaging in controversy with a sense of respect can shape each of us into more informed and open-minded citizens. College is meant to be a time of exploring and being pushed outside of comfort zones. But when the overwhelming majority stands vehemently on one side rejecting to let the minority’s voice surface, there is something very wrong with the way students are approaching their education.
The crux of the issue spans far further than left versus right or liberal versus conservative. It is a matter of the mindset that students use to approach this so called “diversity” heavily embraced by schools. More importantly, it is not just in schools but also in society where there is a need for better understanding between differing perspectives. We, as undergraduates, do not enter the “real world” after college; the real world is all around us. In society, compromise and understanding are needed and college should be no different. This world has never been and never will be black and white. The infinite shades in between are what make this planet so incredibly fascinating.
As we embark on this next great adventure, I encourage us all to listen and share. Listen attentively and share openly with the awareness that your opinion does not need to be agreed on for it to be spoken.
“What College Kids Don’t Want to Hear.” LA Times. Web. 19th May 2014. <http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-graduation-speeches-canceled-commencement-sp-20140519-story.html>
Strauss, Valerie. “Bloomberg, at Harvard, blasts Ivy League liberals for trying to repress conservative ideas.” Washington Post. Web. 31st May 2014.
Image Credit: Sackton, Tim. “Harvard Gates, Fall #2.” Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/7eBgms>.