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A New York Times article about how self-censorship is rampant on college campuses has gone viral and sparked a national debate about political culture on university campuses. A college student from the University of Virginia wrote about how surprised she is that self-censorship and question avoidance is now the norm in college, even among politically left-of-center students.
When asked about this self-censorship, University of Iowa College Republicans President Makenzie Jones said, “It’s not worth feeling ostracized, or judged over political beliefs in a class.”
Sadly, the op-ed describing this weird social phenomenon is too little, too late. Just a quick search and scan of news headlines shows the slow creep of campus bullying based on political affiliation. Outlets like Campus Reform, the Daily Signal and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have been speaking about the torment openly conservative and libertarian students have endured on campuses for 20-plus years.
If I could give my freshman year self some advice, I’m not sure I would tell her to share her free market opinions at all. Was the stress worth it? I’m not sure.
The only reason this “self-censorship” is considered newsworthy by the New York Times is because liberal students are now concerned that it’s happening to them. When topics like energy grids and watershed maintenance are categorized as racial justice and equity issues, many self-identifying Democrats could easily be lumped into the “conservative” group and other-ized on campus.
There is evidence showing that students are afraid to engage in the intellectual tradition that made liberal arts education great. We built universities for students to pursue a well-rounded, holistic approach to learning in preparation for both life and career. Now, we have indoctrination factories with tax exempt status burdening students with debt.
I graduated from Loras College in 2020 and I’d wager that Loras has one of the most conservative student bodies and faculty makeup in the country. A handful of teachers openly identify as conservative before being awarded tenure and they aren’t subjected to online hate or outrage articles unlike at other institutions. The student body wasn’t overly political but being nominally Republican didn’t guarantee the same campus harassment that happens at colleges around the country.
Still, occasionally people were unnecessarily rude to me about my political opinions or campaign work and I have very stressful memories of a professor yelling at me twice in class for asking “How did the free-market cause the Irish potato famine?”
When talking to friends at Berkeley who hosted Ben Shapiro on their campus with riot police on standby and another who was booed at her graduation, I didn’t feel like I had the right to complain. But looking back, I can’t believe how I maintained such a positive attitude. If I could give my freshman year self some advice, I’m not sure I would tell her to share her free market opinions at all. Was the stress worth it? I’m not sure.
It’s painfully obvious that this campus toxicity exists and it will inevitably bleed even more into Iowa’s public and private higher education institutions unless campuses step up and make some meaningful, institutional changes.
Schools should be teaching tolerance and an understanding that a difference in policy opinion doesn’t decrease the inherent value of a person or take away inherent respect. Administrators can prevent student organizations from defunding clubs based on the political views of members and reprimand students that directly target and harass peers. Higher education isn’t actually an education if students are afraid to be themselves.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org