It’s no secret: liberal arts colleges are, well, liberal. Those leaning to the political left have controlled academia for years.
While that may sit well with many students, there is a right-leaning minority (myself included) that increasingly feels as if our perspective is either being unfairly represented or excluded entirely from the supposedly “open” dialogue on campus. For myself and many other “closet conservatives,” this reality has become very apparent, as many professors are now including the 2016 presidential race in lectures and assignments.
What is a liberal arts college, precisely? Does its name automatically imply that the default worldview of its classrooms should be “liberal?” What does such a loaded term even mean in the context of education?
Other conservatives and I think about these things on a frequent basis — not because we necessarily want to, but because we have to. We are operating in an institution that considers our perspective inherently less “compassionate,” less “open-minded” and less “intellectual” than a liberal one. Because of the left-leaning bias, my own understanding of the world is often challenged, forcing me to justify my positions and gather convincing evidence and arguments in support of them. That’s the idea of going to a university, right?
Wrong. At least, wrong if you’re a liberal professor who categorizes conservative or right-leaning opinions as “intellectually underdeveloped” (a phrase used to describe Donald Trump supporters in a class last spring), or “usually xenophobic or bigoted” (from a professor this semester). If you’re one of these “intellectually underdeveloped” students, then no amount of evidence gathered or arguments made will ever suffice. In other words, if you’re “right,” you’re wrong.
Before my professors even learned the names of their students, they were making their political leanings very clear. During the second week of classes, Trump held a joint press conference with President Nieto in Mexico. My professor asked the class if anyone had watched the address. I had, but refrained from raising my hand, because I knew what was coming — “Well that’s good that no one did because you’d have to be on hallucinogenic drugs in order to actually listen to any of that garbage.”
Another professor took time to comment on UK’s referendum to leave the EU: “Remember Brexit, earlier this year? That decision for the UK to effectively screw itself and its future generations over for decades to come? That movement was fueled by xenophobia and islamophobia, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what Trump is trying to bring to the United States.” There was no room for myself or any other student (conservative OR liberal) to challenge this very clearly inflammatory statement of opinion, portrayed as fact.
I could fill a telephone book with all the times blatant political bias has been injected as “fact” into lectures. But the frequency of these incidents is really the less-important issue.
What matters here is the intellectual atmosphere created for all students—conservative ones in particular, but all students, all the same. It is an atmosphere in which challenging this political status quo may not only leave a student with a poor reputation, but may also influence the way a professor grades work. Because, let’s face it, when a professor espouses a political view and then presents it as fact, any assignment designed to be “factually based” must inevitably incorporate “relevant lecture elements” in order to be judged as a thoughtful submission that makes connections to class.
Let me be clear: I knew about this bias before I came to Richmond. But now that I’ve been here for a while, I’ve decided that I’m through toeing the line. Now that I know how to navigate the political pitfalls in the classroom, I will shed my fears about speaking up and will dare to challenge (respectfully, of course) the assumptions made in class. It is time to stop behaving as if liberalism is the consensus. As long as I and other conservatives exist on campus, it is not. It’s all right to be “right.”
Contact contributor Maddie Bright at firstname.lastname@example.org.