There have been many news reports recently about controversies on college campuses due to differences in political beliefs, race, and/or religion. For example, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley in February, but administrators cancelled his speech after demonstrations turned violent. The protesters, among whom were both students and community members, caused $100,000 of damage to the Berkeley campus and a handful of people were injured.
In May, about 50 students at Evergreen State College in Washington burst into the classroom of a biology professor, disrupting his class and demanding he resign, after an email he sent to all staff and faculty members was published in the student newspaper. In the email, the professor objected to the suggestion, which previously had been published in the student newspaper, that all white members of the Evergreen community leave campus for a “Day of Absence.” In the past, this annual event had involved minority students and faculty voluntarily leaving campus for the day.
In June, students at San Francisco State University filed a federal lawsuit against the school, citing its failure to respond to anti-Semitic incidents on campus and its contribution to a hostile environment for Jews. Students have reported being harassed, receiving threats to their safety, and being afraid to wear anything that identifies them as Jewish.
Events like these raise questions about what should and should not be tolerated on college campuses. Where is the line between protecting free speech and condoning hate speech, between allowing peaceful protest and preventing violence?
These occurrences make many high school students wonder if they will feel welcome and safe at certain colleges if they are not a member of the political, racial, or religious majority on campus. Willard Dix, who formerly worked in admissions at Amherst College and was a college counselor at a private school in Chicago, addresses this issue in a recent Forbes article. He urges students and parents to put incidents like these in perspective and to recognize that an isolated event does not represent an entire college.
Dix writes, “A heightened sensitivity to racial and economic issues on campuses from both sides of the political spectrum, as well as the megaphone effect of social media, has given outsiders the impression that certain campuses are ‘hotbeds’ of radical brainwashing, where students enter as dutiful learners and emerge as wild-eyed bomb throwers.”
He points out that conservative speakers are often invited to campuses by groups like College Republicans. Such was the case with Milo Yiannopolous at Berkeley. So even at schools that have a reputation of being “liberal,” alternative views do, indeed, exist. (One way to determine the diversity of political and other beliefs among a college’s student body is to look at the types of student organizations on campus. This information can usually be found on a college’s website.)
Dix goes on to offer suggestions to students and parents who are trying to determine if a college is a good fit based on its political climate. He encourages prospective students to talk to current students at the colleges they are considering to get a better feel for the campus’s political climate, rather than simply relying on news reports. Indeed, students are your best source of information about a college and you should take advantage of any opportunity you have to talk with them.
Another source of information is Heterodox Academy’s Guide to Colleges. Heterodox is a group of about 900 college professors who are dedicated to increasing political diversity and discourse on college campuses. The guide ranks colleges “according to the degree of viewpoint diversity you can expect to find on campus.”
As you research colleges, it’s important to gather information from a variety of sources. That goes for research on any factor that is important to you, not just politics. The best way to determine if you will feel comfortable at a college and if it is a good fit is to visit. See this blog post for tips on making the most of college visits.