Many would agree that while college campuses have always been a center of politically and culturally progressive thought, today’s students take a larger interest in the promotion of progressive politics than they have in the past. It would be difficult to find any college student who confessed support for the social ills often the subject of criticism from campuses across the nation: racial and gender inequality, wealth disparity, man made climate change, and so on. Any person that possessed the virtue of reason could find no stance from which to combat the concerns that many express on these topics.
However this general atmosphere of progressivism does not easily apply to the actual politics of college students. According to The Atlantic, American students are more polarized now than any time in the last 51 years. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the homogeneity of cultural values should they be well-founded, but the issue here is that there may exist an illusion of shared values where there may not be any meaningful overlap. One might acknowledge the potential disparity between a student’s ideological leanings and the candidates they support, where there may be significant dissonance.
Regardless of students’ political leanings, college freshman are still more politically engaged now than they have been since around the mid-20th century, according to FiveThirtyEight. There exists a significant and unprecedented interest in political discussions and public policy-making, such that this interest palpably affects the atmosphere on college campuses.
But still one may ask for more. It isn’t valid to criticise the uniformity of political opinions on college campuses; it simply doesn’t exist. One may suggest that the problem, rather, is that the suggestion of this sameness of opinion can only occur in the absence of meaningful political discourse, the sort of discourse that demands conflict, criticism, and disagreement. It’s not that political conflict does not occur on college campuses, but rather that in many cases one may imagine this conflict to be sourced to insular groups who amplify objections to the political culture on college campuses far beyond the degree to which they exist. A more relevant point is that are not often forums on college campuses that promote unheard voices that do not align with a popular narrative. Of course a governing theme on modern college campuses is inclusion of minority voices, but one may suggest that more often than not these forums exist in isolated groups that fail to penetrate the public consciousness of college campuses. A common occurrence is the repetition of popular opinions that collect praise and approval from others. Very few could openly and confidently disagree with others’ as their concerns relate to the matters political instability in the U.S. government, or the threat of crises created by climate change, or the intensifying stratification among America’s wealth groups. The problem is not with any single one of these ideas, but with the notion that any one of these concerns deserves or needs to be regularly repeated as a means of solidifying their importance. It may be taken for granted that any of these or related issues are constantly on the forefront of many college students’ mind, especially when they directly concern many modern students and many more that belong to minority groups.
For the health of of public discourse, political discussions on college campus require more sincere, constructive conflict, in whatever form that takes. It may be difficult to judge the nature of such discussions in their best form, but they may be preferable to conversations in which inside and outside the classroom students and instructors alike anticipate support for the simplest political virtues, even as their repetition gradually dilutes the alarm with which they were once treated but always desire.