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Old Gold & Black

Scott Kull: The new Director of Athletics
Abigail Taylor, Contributing Writer • April 16, 2024

Political Diversity Or Not?

Image+illustrating+the+differences+in+left-wing+and+right-wing+ideology.
Image illustrating the differences in left-wing and right-wing ideology.

A reflection on the need for discourse and dialogue on college

The previous decade brought a gradual conclusion to the days of avoiding sensitive discussions that might spoil friendly gatherings and polite dinners. Polarized, political dialogue has been pushed to the forefront of the American psyche and led to a battle concerning the values being instilled within the next generation of leaders.

Certain figures of prominence in the media have made charges against institutions of higher education, condemning modern colleges and universities for acting as mechanisms of indoctrination rather than education by failing to encourage students to reason and stifling intellectual diversity.

Proponents of this view cite studies such as “The Social and Political Views of American Professors”, conducted in 2017, which found that liberal arts professors are more likely to identify as liberal, compared to 3.9 percent as conservatives. Additionally, a 2016 pew research study which found that 31% of students graduated holding consistently liberal viewpoints while only 10% held consistently conservative opinions has also been referenced.

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Opponents of this view pose countering research, such as the IDEALS study, which surveyed over 7,000 students from 120 universities in the country at the beginning of freshman and sophomore year and found that students’ attitudes do indeed change during the first year of college. However, there was a surge in both negative and positive attitudes toward republican ideas and results concerning democratic policies were not significantly different.

Pertaining to the culture of Wofford College, some students and faculty expressed an alternate view of their experiences of engaging in political discourse in and outside of the classroom.

Woods Wooten ‘23, a Campus Union Delegate, voiced his opinion in favor of the notion that a professor’s political leanings do not necessarily lead to biased interference with their professional duties.

“I believe that it is correct to say many professors are left leaning, however in personal experience I have never had a professor who has abandoned their duty to push an agenda,” he said.

Wooten continued, “I believe Wofford does very well in educating their students to the point where they can understand differing opinions. Free thought is often expressed at Wofford in various forms, but not to the point where it affects the learning environment.”

Wooten commented further concerning the presence of political diversity at Wofford in comparison to society as a whole and the ability of students to formulate educated opinions.

He said, “I do not believe Wofford’s political diversity represents society. Yes we do have diverse views as a student body, but society is much more divided in its views. In personal experience at Wofford, I find that those with differing political opinions often get along well. I do think Wofford students are being prepared with the correct skills in regards to forming their own strong conclusions. ”

Molly Wells ‘21, a Delegate for Campus Union, also shared her beliefs, stating that free speech is the right to be heard, as well as the responsibility to listen.

“The great thing about a liberal arts education,” Wells said, “is that students are exposed to different viewpoints. The whole point of our general education requirements is to ensure that we graduate from Wofford with a broad understanding of and exposure to different things. However, whether or not students come to Wofford prepared to have their opinions challenged is a different story. I would say that the culture at Wofford, in light of recent events in our country, has proven to be one where some students do feel hesitant to express their opinions, feelings, and lived experiences.”

Wells then discussed censorship vs political correctness and made her distinction between productive conversation and hate speech clear.

“I would say that there is a difference between avoiding offensive rhetoric and censorship,” Wells said, “Freedom of speech is essential to our democracy, but free speech and hate speech are completely different things. Your freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment, but this goes beyond simply the words that we say.

Wells continued, “For example: you don’t have to salute the flag, and you have the right to take a knee during the National Anthem. We have the right to engage in symbolic speech and in protest. Healthy, productive discussions are necessary to foster growth, tolerance, and understanding. But it isn’t conducive to learning to actively promote and support bigoted ideas.”

William DeMars, professor of government, provided thoughtful commentary on the current volatile state of American politics and also expressed faith in Wofford’s community to approach difficult topics with grace.

“In my experience of almost 20 years teaching at Wofford, this place has a greater openness to civil discussion and free dialogue than any other college or university I know of,” DeMars said.

“I am not alone among faculty in this judgment. I have had many one-on-one conversations, group meetings with other faculty members, and even public panel discussions, on challenging issues. We have been able to sometimes agree, sometimes disagree, and to learn from each other,” DeMars said.

DeMars also stressed the importance of maintaining the spirit of humility and refusing to allow society’s chaos to infringe upon the collective mission of liberal arts colleges to facilitate a balanced education through the exchange of ideas.

“Some times are harder than others to live up to these ideals of education for freedom, and civil and open discussion. Tonight (Wednesday, January 6, 2021), as I write this, I have been thinking hard about how to propose a constructive and open conversation in my classes over the next two days about our current political situation in the United States, and particularly about the events at the Capitol building in Washington, DC today.”

Demars continued, “I even thought about just cancelling classes. But I realized (and my wife reminded me) that this would be a cop out. So I will give it a try, even though a free discussion is an unpredictable one. I don’t know what will happen. That is a lot like democracy.”

Written by Nehmiah Broadie

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