Campus conservatives feel alienated among dialogues

Some conservative students have recently expressed frustration at having different political views on a mostly liberal campus. One student, Luka Ladan ‘15, appeared on Fox News to discuss the issue. Photo By: Spencer Davis
Some conservative students have recently expressed frustration at having different political views on a mostly liberal campus. One student, Luka Ladan ‘15, appeared on Fox News to discuss the issue. Photo By: Spencer Davis
Some conservative students have recently expressed frustration at having different political views
on a mostly liberal campus. One student, Luka Ladan ‘15, appeared on Fox News to discuss the issue. Photo By: Spencer Davis

On Sunday, April 27, ABC News and Fox News featured Vassar student Luka Ladan ’15 [Full Disclosure: Luka Ladan is a columnist for The Miscellany News] who discussed what it is like to be a politically conservative student  on a predominantly politically liberal campus.

“I was in a class talking about Republicans—Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Whenever a name was mentioned, one kid would snicker and then five to seven would just laugh at the name,” Ladan told ABC News. Ladan, who is associated with the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union (VCLU), said in an emailed statement that the professor of the political science class in which this situation occurred played off the banter, and did nothing to prevent the control of the classroom by a single ideological majority.

“It’s part of a greater theme here on campus,” says Ladan. “The professor exposes himself as slanted in his or her views and the students eat it up, and they play off each other—leaving any objectors behind in the dust.”

The stories were prompted when conservative students took to Twitter to spread awareness of what it’s like being a conservative on liberal campuses. While the country in general is more evenly split, a study by UCLA showed that over 60% of professors identify as “far-left” or “liberal,” while less than 12 percent identify as “conservative,” and less than 1 percent identify as “far right.” Not only are professors left-leaning, but over 60 percent of young voters voted for President Obama in the 2012 election (Inside Higher Ed, “Moving further Left,” 10.24.2012). The #MyLiberalCampus campaign was an attempt by conservatives to discuss being the minority political ideology across campuses.

Tweets ranged from humorous to disturbing, with some students claiming that professors called them outright stupid for their beliefs, or that professors were disappointed that the Republican party didn’t relocate to another planet. One student from the University of Michigan tweeted: “#MyLiberalCampus a teacher once told me Republicans are worse than pedophiles #MsCowan #TheWorst.” While labeling an entire political party as sexual predators isn’t the norm on most campuses, many of these conservative students found that it’s not unusual for a professor to strongly promote their own ideas—political or otherwise.

Such scenarios leave students such as Ladan feeling like they can’t state their viewpoint without being mocked. According to Ladan, when in a political science class, letting one political ideology be portrayed as  correct ideology is irresponsible.

“It all begins with respect. At a school like Vassar, there’s no place for laughter and mockery and snide remarks. It’s counterproductive,” said Ladan.

He advised all conservatives to educate themselves and stick to their guns. “Being a conservative on a liberal campus can be a blessing in disguise, since you learn how to debate all sorts of different people. Embrace your convictions and remain steadfast, but also stay respectful.”

For Kiran Kawolics ’15, however, the question of respect becomes moot when ideologies offer the potential to hurt others.

She said, “People have this idea that everyone has the right to their own opinion and they have the right to those opinions no matter what, but when those opinions are actively hurting and oppressing others then they don’t deserve to be respected or tolerated.”

While everyone has his or her own reasons for choosing a college, the open education platform and liberal arts system are major draws for Vassar that allow students to explore a myriad of subjects, as opposed to limiting electives to one or two a year. In fact, Vassar’s graduation requirement of having only 75 percent of credits be in one’s major’s field ensures that students branch out into subjects that require different discourses and ways of thinking. Schools such as Vassar promote learning how to think and expanding and exploring one’s own mind, sometimes to the chagrin of a student who was hoping to gain more professional skill development.

But while Vassar demands both writing seminars and quantitative classes, it accepts the fact that there is more to a well-rounded campus than students who study exclusively quantitative or literary subjects. One example of this can be presented with the push for a social consciousness requirement that has been the forefront of debate about Vassar academics in recent years.

Such awareness surrounding the complexities of power dynamics and oppression, Kawolics said, is something these conversations about liberal and conservative voices on campus are decidedly lacking.

“Reverse racism isn’t a thing, reverse sexism isn’t a thing—you can’t say that just because people are calling you out on your beliefs you are being marginalized. That’s not a claim you get to make as part of a privileged group,” she said.

Jonah Grob ’17 expressed his feelings about the political idealogical environment at Vassar. “I think professors should avoid blatantly favoring one side, especially in political classes,” said Grob, “People should be able to develop their own ideas and, as an independent who leans liberal, I’m still developing my own beliefs. It’s most helpful to me when there is when there’s informed debate between classmates.”

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, Kawolics too believes the discourse currently taking place on campus is important for students’ personal development.

She stated, “College is supposed to be a time where you develop your thoughts and grow in your beliefs.”

4 Comments

  1. Ok, Ms. Kawolics, according to your logic, I shouldn’t respect or tolerate liberals that oppose school choice, as by not being able to choose how my children are being educated, my children are being harmed.

    Then there’s the example of abortion; some get around the moral relativism issues surrounding abortion by simply using framing language to obscure the obvious: “It isn’t a viable human life, it’s just a fetus.”
    Well, I submit if we’re following your premise of what is required for respect and tolerance (i.e. the lack of inflicting harm or oppression), anyone that favors abortion shouldn’t be respected or tolerated.

    But I forgot, only liberals are the arbiters of what constitutes right, wrong and “social justice”.

    Welcome to the Vassar Petard Club.

  2. Hmmm . . . what happened to my comment? It certainly wasn’t any more acerbic or confrontational than
    Ms. Kawolics. Didn’t I just read an article about Vassar students wanting to be more inclusive with the outside community?! Expanding their sphere of educational experiences?

    Let’s try again:

    People with views that actively hurt or oppress others shouldn’t be respected or tolerated.
    Abortion hurts and oppresses others.
    Ergo, people that favor abortion shouldn’t be respected or tolerated.

  3. There’s nothing wrong with mockery as an argumentation technique. There would only be an issue here if the conservatives’ speech is suppressed or punished in some way, which it doesn’t sound like is going on here. You’re in a liberal environment, so it’s an uphill climb, and certainly they can expect to be marginalized. Being treated with incivility and mockery is a part of bringing unpopular ideas. If their skin is so thin as to be unable to handle that, that’s a shame; the academy is a time to challenge and be challenged. When the news is that the professor won’t let them speak, or grades them down for quality work, then it’s a story.

  4. I am about as liberal as they come but yes the author is right on this one. Part of the reason for the liberal snideness is the sense of being marginalized in the real world. Truly progressive policies get short shrift in the US. Even though we have a Democrat in office he is hardly fdr. It would be beneficial to all for opinions to be equally valued. If the author can be taken at his word…he is respectful of others…and they should be of him. This is not just a “nice” thi n g to do…it reduces a sense of alienation and polarizafion. These kids would hopefully learn to get along in ways our ‘adults’ in Congress have failed to do so completely.

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