At Stanford and other elite colleges, students and faculty fixate on gender, race, ethnic background, and sexual orientation. An African-American student’s description of his family and friends’ experiences of racism in the criminal justice system, or a female computer science major’s story of discrimination at her internship, can certainly provoke rich discussion.
But recently, identity politics have become a barrier to productive discussions. We think too much about who people are rather than what they believe.
If we wish to more deeply understand the world, we should consider a variety of political opinions. Unfortunately, this diversity is lacking at Stanford and most elite universities. More common is ideological homogeneity, along with a growing intolerance that prevents students who dissent from speaking their minds.
When I mentioned the link between alcohol and sexual assault at a dorm event during my New Student Orientation, I worried that I would be judged and accused of victim blaming - a prospect no freshman, eager to make new friends, would be excited about. Within the Review, those taking stances on Donald Trump or Greek life that would be reasonable to the rest of the world, have asked to be published anonymously. Stanford’s oppressive political environment appeared to require it.
Openness to new ideas is missing at Stanford. Most students don’t take rigorous humanities classes that force them to understand and debate radically different ideas about what makes a government just or a life good. Even classes that seem to promise open-minded discussion are often politicized or over-simplified. When one student in Structured Liberal Education (SLE) suggested carrying out discussions as Socratic dialogues, her cohorts refused on the basis that the direct style of questioning might cause students to feel “attacked.”
It’s no surprise, then, that dogmatism is common. When we fail to study the conflicting ideas of political philosophers, or understand the nuances of historical situations, we rely on over-confident generalizations based on our own experiences. College liberals can be arrogant: if everyone speaking loudly about politics agrees with them, they must be right.
They don’t listen to those who hesitate to speak up out of fear - fear of being condemned by other students and administrators as perpetrators of “hate speech.”
But the Review’s central premise is that a diversity of opinions is inherently valuable. And that's what we will keep fighting to represent in the upcoming year. At past meetings, we’ve discussed whether a humanities core curriculum should be required, whether discussions of diversity should include considerations of economic class, and whether Stanford’s reactions to the election of President Trump were justified. At our weekly meetings at Old Union, we’ll continue to be a home for thoughtful and provocative political discourse.
As national politics becomes increasingly divisive, even violent, it is crucial for us Stanford students to be skeptical, inquisitive, and open to ideas beyond our bubble.
We have the unique opportunity to engage with everyone from top political science and philosophy professors to the most fringe conspiracy theorist on YouTube. If we try to understand a wide spectrum of ideas and defend our own ideas to ourselves, we will better understand the flaws and strengths of our worldview.
So the Review won't shy away from publishing things that most people believe can’t be said at Stanford.
We'll continue to combat intolerance and represent the viewpoints of everyone here, not just those who shout loudest in Facebook comments or White Plaza protests.
Join our community of thoughtful, curious people at our weekly meetings, Monday nights at 7 pm at Old Union 215 (we’ll meet in 200 on October 2nd). We'd love to hear what you have to say.