Liberal and conservative campuses: Do students want their views challenged or confirmed?

Do students choose college campus that reflect their political views? The author of this op-ed discovers while her northeastern campus mourned Donald Trump’s election, a close pal’s southern college celebrated it.
(Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

Welcome back AJC intern Allison Gordon with a second piece for the blog. A rising junior at Brown University, the Atlanta native wrote last about the “swan effect,” students who appear composed on the surface but are paddling frantically to remain afloat.

In this piece, Gordon discusses how high school students may choose colleges not to broaden their view of the world, but to confirm it.

I am delighted Gordon chose to submit a second piece — and is working on a third — despite testy responses last week from some regular commentators here.

By Allison Gordon

Throughout the 2016 election, pundits lamented the creation of “Facebook echo chambers,” the ideological bubbles people construct on social media where they can steep in ideas similar to their own.

Many believe this phenomenon makes us susceptible to fake news and conspiracies. I don’t think Facebook echo chambers are necessarily to blame for our chaotic political climate, but I know they play a part. By combing through statuses and defriending, we create virtual worlds which exclusively reflect our opinions.

Allison Gordon is a rising junior at Brown University.

But this narrative of “internet echo chambers” is limited. In my opinion, there is also a physical manifestation, a brick and mortar echo chamber. The college campus.

College is designed to push students in new directions, challenging our convictions in the classroom and beyond. But many of us chose our schools because they mirror our ideologies. It makes sense. We sought a place that nurtured our core values, validated our beliefs, and confirmed our identities. I certainly had this in mind when I chose my school.

Rarely am I forced to step out of my college bubble; truthfully, I tend to avoid doing so. My campus feels liberal and accepting and open. I love it. But coming home this summer, I realized again that my university doesn’t always reflect how the rest of the country thinks. This became especially obvious after lunch with my friend who goes to school in Mississippi.

Despite being in different circles in high school, the two of us became close senior year through an extracurricular program. I hadn’t seen her in months, so overlapping a few days in Atlanta was a happy coincidence. What was meant to be an hour-long meal turned into the entire afternoon. Immediately, the differences between our schools dominated the conversation.

In the beginning, we contrasted our class sizes (mine, 6,182 undergraduates. Hers, 18,785). We also discussed social life at both schools. At hers, game days bind together the student body. I attended a single football game my freshman year. It was for a journalism class requirement.

We wound our way to election night. Again, our schools glared in marked contrast. Walking to class on Nov. 9, I felt like my peers and I had all attended the same funeral. It was the saddest day I can remember at school; everyone I spoke with was devastated. (I’m looking forward to the comments about my liberal snowflake status, by the way. Y’all here on the AJC Get Schooled blog are helping me get a thicker skin with every article.)

In contrast, vocally opposing Trump in my friend’s circle would make you an outlier, she explained. Her college was the focus of a New York Times article about “perhaps the most reviled student at the university” who went against the grain with his brand of liberalism.

One thing our schools have in common? Both consistently make headlines. Far right commentators believe my school is a festering sore of political correctness. A few months ago, Fox News host Jesse Watters came to cover a class on “toxic masculinity.” Lightly put, most of us weren’t thrilled he was on campus. In contrast, progressives, myself included, tend to malign my friend’s school for the despicable actions of a few.

When the bill came, it sat on the table at Ladybird untouched. We continued to discuss the stereotypes about our schools, stereotypes which are antithetical to one another. In the car on my way home, I realized that our two schools are microcosms of our current political climate.

In his book The Big Sort, journalist Bill Bishop uses demographic data to show how Americans have segmented themselves into communities compatible with their ideologies and lifestyles. I argue this sorting now arrives when you decide where to go to college. I want to acknowledge my privilege in that statement. My friend and I both had the choice to leave Georgia for college, and even being able to go to college is a privilege.

I also need to be up front about something. I’ve never visited my friend’s school. I’ve never pushed my way through a crowded game day at the Grove. I’ve never been to Faulkner’s house or attended their frat parties or even been to the state of Mississippi. But I grew up in the south with kids who live, breathe, exude this campus. I know people who dreamed of attending before they knew what college really was.

I felt that way about my college, too. I wanted to study on top of a rickety hill in New England. I wanted to sit in the same seats as Janet Yellen and Hermione Granger and JFK, Jr. Like many, I fiercely loved my school before stepping on campus.

There is no denying that my school is a politically active space; I don’t regret choosing it for a minute. I would much rather be attacked for PC culture than for traces of the Confederacy. (Again, cue the comments).

But I did cherish this lunch with my friend. I’m not sure how, but more people need to be having these hard conversations. Maybe the two of us will write an academic tome, outlining how college campuses were ground zero for the polarization of 2016. Or maybe just a Buzzfeed listicle, open for comments.

 

 

 

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28 comments
JustThinking07
JustThinking07


Good Grief! What does this even mean? "There is no denying that my school is a politically active space; I don't regret choosing it for a minute. I would rather be attacked for PC culture than for traces of the Confederacy. (Again, cue the comments)."  The Confederacy? What role does it even play in college selection?  Cue the comments - did you think we would all be rushing to write comments in support of the Confederacy? This author lives in a privileged bubble and believes that all people who attend college in the south (AKA not in Rhode Island) must participate in confederate reenactments as seen on the movie "Sweet Home Alabama".  I have no regrets for choosing a Georgia Institution for more than one degree. I learned to listen to various viewpoints, go beyond weak arguments, and analyze ideas from multiple perspectives.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"My campus feels liberal and accepting and open."

Sorry.  Not buying it.  I've seen too many accounts of students  trying to shut down events and groups that are contrary to the politically correct dogma.  One truism I've observed over the years is that those who preach "tolerance and acceptance" are anything but.


Speaking of Brown, a news account which describes the "relentless shouting, interrupting, cursing, and berating" actions of Brown students.  http://www.thedailybeast.com/brown-university-students-poisonous-uprising-against-their-president

Google "Brown student protests".  There are many examples similar to the above.


Accepting, indeed.

bu22
bu22

@Lee_CPA2 And there was Dartmouth-the friendly protest in the library: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/16/black-lives-matter-protesters-berate-white-student/   

"“Throngs of protesters converged around fellow students who had not joined in their long march,” The Review reported. “They confronted students who bore ‘symbols of oppression’ such as ‘gangster hats’ and Beats-brand headphones. The flood of demonstrators opened the doors of study spaces with students reviewing for exams. Those who tried to close their doors were harassed further. One student abandoned the study room and ran out of the library. The protesters followed her out of the library, shouting obscenities the whole way.”

Men and women were pushed and shoved by the group, the newspaper claimed.

One woman was reportedly pinned to a wall by protesters who shouted “filthy white b–-” in her face."

gapeach101
gapeach101

I find the concept of a "liberal" college or "conservative" college to be confusing.  I used to think it was based on a broad brush labeling of the faculty.  Would that make UGA liberal or conservative? 

This article seems to base the label on the student body.  

My daughter went to an Ivy and she found most of the students came from wealthy families and tended to be conservative.  I would guess most folks would describe Ivy Schools as liberal.  Which is it?

BobandBernice
BobandBernice

Thanks for writing about your experiences and for being open with your friend. There will always be Internet trolls who feel brave enough to make hateful comments anonymously. Just keep writing!

redweather
redweather

What was so "hard" about this conversation you had with your friend? As far as I can tell, all you did was discussed the differences between the schools you attend.

weetamoe
weetamoe

Cute.  "Oooh, I am going to be criticized for what I am writing, but I will bravely forge ahead."  I was born and lived for years just across the state line. Many of my husband's public school friends were awarded scholarships to Brown. I wonder if the writer ever really sees the people who live and work outside of the campus.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

Conservative Republicans act and vote in their own self-interests, along with what is good for their families and friends.


Liberal Democrats are compassionate people who care about EVERYONE, want what's best for society as a whole, and make thoughtful, well-informed decisions based on generosity and compassion for the least fortunate among us.


Consequently, when you disagree with a Liberal Democrat, you are not simply someone with a different background, set of experiences and perspective.  Instead, you are an IGNORANT LYING SELFISH HATER WHO HATES - a self-centered, selfish, racist, jerk and a bad person.

1Fred
1Fred

I'm struggling with the comments about attending a school open to discourse.  I'm not familiar with Brown to a large degree so I don't pretend to speak about it specifically.  It seems from current events though, that many of the universities that pride themselves on freedom of discourse and open thought processing have proven to be anything but.  Whether the school is liberal or conservative, there have been many documented instances recently of speakers from the opposite school of thought being turned away, sometimes after an event has been scheduled and sometimes with some degree of violence.  Schools of so called progressive thinking such as Berkley have been vehement in their rejection of opposite schools of thought.  If you are going to make an informed decision, you need to listen to both sides.  If you support one side or the other, you should be seeking out opportunities to debate both sides of the issue, not rejecting their position without even listening to it.  Shouting down and shutting down discussion is not the way to strengthen your position.  In fact it tends to weaken it because it creates the bubble of similar thoughts.  With respect, you've judged the entire student body, faculty and staff of another institution based on the actions of a few and articles written by those of a different viewpoint from the university.  Having said that, I do respect that you are attempting to present your point of view in a well thought out and articulate manner.  I've told my kids as they have grown and moved on that
I don't have to agree with their points of view nor do they have to agree with mine but we do have to be able to discuss them intelligently and without wild accusations.  Good luck as you continue with your education.  I would venture that writing these articles and responding to the feed back is perhaps the most critical part of your education you will do.

gapeach101
gapeach101

@1Fred Berkeley thought it was a good idea to provide a safe place for a conservative speaker.  The speaker was invited by a student group which didn't consider that particular nicety.  Berkeley attempted to reschedule, which did not suit Ms. Coulter's narrative.  Most amusing was her complaint that classes were not in session.  Well, duh.  It was reading week.  More students would have be able to attend that week than a normal week.  It's not like students leave campus the week before finals. 

bu22
bu22

@1Fred Discussing was how it used to be on college campuses.  The idea of college is not to reinforce your existing beliefs, but to challenge them.  Its your first time, for most, living on your own, away from your family.  Its "higher" education, not just a mindless mirror on yourself.  And there is nothing that helps you understand your own values and beliefs better than having to defend them.

catmom-scout
catmom-scout

I didn't comment on Allison's last column, but it struck a personal chord with me. I especially appreciate her sharing the link to the ESPN piece. It moved me. I was taken aback by some of the harsh comments, and I'm certainly no Millennial apologist.

Dr_Scholl
Dr_Scholl

Whether or not people choose higher education based on their ideological preferences is irrelevant. The purpose of college is to teach students to objectively analyze information and come to a thoughtful conclusion. The conclusion should then be open for debate regardless of its popularity. The stifling of debate and personal attacks robs individuals of their right to freedom of speech. Thus a college should be selected for its tolerance of opposing ideas.

Astropig
Astropig

(IMHO) Most students are unformed lumps of clay that arrive at college ignorant,or at best, apathetic to political issues.After being steeped in a toxic stew of "progressive" fascism,a lot of them come home from their matriculation as hateful,bitter creatures that their parents barely know.Their job skills, circa 2017, for which there is amazingly little demand, is hating anyone with more than they have.


They have one thing in abundance: Debt. Duffel bags and steamer trunks of student debt.That means a trip back to mom and dad's basement to blog all day about how unfair America is to them.


The ones that I have seen do well are the ones that are well adjusted and well supported and loved before they go off to college.They're much less susceptible to the misfits and ne'er-do-well's that push mindless economic and social theories about "fairness" and all the "isms" that are their calling card.

Your Teacher
Your Teacher

@Astropig This may be a first, but I actually agree with some of what you said. 


"They have one thing in abundance: Debt. Duffel bags and steamer trunks of student debt."


That is a complete understatement and when I was making my point earlier as to why/where students choose to go to college, I left that out. Students also choose where to go based on the financial aid they are going to get. Again, political direction of the school is so far down the list of reasons students pick a school. Unfortunately, much of what the author stated and claims is entirely anecdotal, which anyone who reads this needs to take with a grain of salt. 

Astropig
Astropig

@Your Teacher @Astropig


I want to be careful here to not speak in terms of absolutes: Some kids are politically aware when they arrive on campus.For whatever reason,politics large and small are just their "thing".But I believe that they are an exception to the norm.


One reason that political radicals gravitate to campus is that the lumps of clay there are much more easily molded than ones with a mortgage,kids or a fully formed sense of their place in the world.

Richard Cionci
Richard Cionci

I was too busy trying to pass my classes and go to work to worry about something as trivial as politics.

Sandy Campbell
Sandy Campbell

Living in the real world, and paying your own bills, is what will change or confirm what you think. If other people or orgaizations are paying your bills, you will be in for a rude awakening if you ever have to pay them yourself. This applies to getting a job too.

catmom-scout
catmom-scout

Exactly. It took several years of working and being out on my own post-college before my political views shifted to the right to the point where I now consider myself an Independent. My views do not wholly align with either the Democratic or Republican parties.

Matt Norris
Matt Norris

I grew up in a small, southern town. This was the days before the internet and we were sheltered in our hometown. College gave me the opportunity to have my horizons broadened. I've changed my opinion on many things since I walked on to the campus at the University of Georgia back in 1992. I grew even more once I left college. That's what life is about. New experiences are needed to confirm or change your views. Staying in a small area where everyone "thinks" the same and never challenging yourself isn't what life should be about.

bu22
bu22

Also, once you graduate, you tend to live and be in professions where most people have a lot in common.  So there is plenty of time to live in a bubble.  College is the time when you should get challenged and stimulated and meet people with diverse thinking, which is so much more important than the diversity of their skin tone.

Your Teacher
Your Teacher

The problem I have with this article comes toward the end, which the author stamped Ole Miss as a fixed establishment of the confederacy and it's culture. As someone who grew up in the North, there is a definite underlying racism that exists that is hidden under the narrative that so many people from the North, or that associate with the North use. That is, because it fought against "the cause", the North is justified in debating what is and isn't correct (which unfortunately you go down in flames doing by stating you would rather fight for PC). 


But my other point is that you have constructed a viewpoint, in this case Ole Miss, that the university is implied conservative. As someone that took classes at the University of Georgia (not the same but a school in the "confederacy" as you put it) - you couldn't be more wrong. Many of the instructors there harbor deep resentment against conservatives and donate a large amount of money to liberals. In fact, a vast majority of students are liberal. 


http://www.redandblack.com/uganews/red-black-globis-survey-majority-of-uga-community-supports-clinton/article_b89d9ff2-9be3-11e6-a3a4-0783926294f9.html


Personally, as someone who works extensively with high school students, kids choose schools that have highly rated programs and reputations - not political affiliations. 





Astropig
Astropig

@Your Teacher


"Personally, as someone who works extensively with high school students, kids choose schools that have highly rated programs and reputations - not political affiliations. "


Agree completely.They become politicized after they enroll,not before,in my experiences.

alt.AJC
alt.AJC

Couple of things: You aren't "privileged" in attending college. You and your parents no doubt worked hard to make that possible. It wasn't handed to you as an entitlement.

And if you do choose to employ the term "far right" then be honest enough to recognize the media similarly has a far left.

It's customary to use his title when referring to the nation's president. Leaving it out belies the image you seek here to project.

BaronDeKalb
BaronDeKalb

@alt.AJC Trump is not owed respect. Obama didn't get any. So turn about is fair play, Snowflake. Otherwise, I agree that privilege is an inappropriate term for the reasons you state. But I disagree that the media is "far left" — your compass is screwed up like so many who think, no doubt, that Fox News is the benchmark. 

teacheralso
teacheralso

Very interesting article.  Thanks for posting.