Formerly known as the Kremlin on the Charles, Harvard’s developed itself quite the reputation as a veritable winter wonderland in the past few years. Housing legions of politically correct “snowflakes” (a modern pejorative for liberals) who frequently stand up for their beliefs, eschew hate speech, and ask for inclusive social spaces, undergraduates and staff alike have re-dyed the Harvard name in leftist blue—so much so that drawing red from this name now is inseparable from also drawing blood from it.
This isn’t only a trend along the Charles—it’s a national phenomenon. Higher education has been shown to increase liberal leanings overall. Harvard is one of many schools that champions this liberal arts education that provide the soundscape for these thoughts to reverberate, enclosing left rhetoric in the bubble as the only intellectual air to breath. Yet, the accumulation of “snowflake” ideas gives way to an avalanche effect: The more prominent and heavily liberal ideals that are expressed on campus, the more likely for more conservative views to be swallowed, suffocated in the deluge, and rendered invisible under the snow.
It is all too easy to fall prey to this isolation of political thought and the zeitgeist of liberalism in today’s political climate. Research has shown that people will go to exorbitant lengths to avoid cross-cutting conversations with people who have opposing political views—even as far as to lose out on a monetary gain just to not hear opinions that differ from their own. Providing facts may seem to be an easy way to avoid opinionated strife, but on either end of the spectrum it has shown to have only further entrenched people in their respective political beliefs.
And in a liberal arts school that promulgates leftist biases, it becomes easy for liberal students—myself included—to surround themselves with political thoughts they find comfort in and marginalize any other voices that chafe against their own political predilections. Free speech has been sharpened as the soapbox for extremists, so we rally against it. Then others rally against our rallying, and the ability to have a constructive dialogue with two opposing views is lost amid the game of “who’s voice is loudest”.
A recent New York Times article tried to tackle this issue of issue (though at a more extreme level than most Harvard political tiffs). In detailing the daily life of a self-proclaimed Nazi and white nationalist, the NYT intended to show how the “other side lives” by portraying the protagonists as an everyday kind of guy. The attempt went viral, and suffered from waves of backlash.
While humanizing Naziism surely wasn’t a sage move and their presentation of Nazi views should have been overwhelmingly less sympathetic, they were onto something with their overall intentions. Attempting to burst the liberal bubble and circulate a wider set of political views could help bridge the political divide and engender conversation between the two parties.
Fostering conversation between liberals and conservatives—especially on a campus like Harvard’s, where those who have conservative leanings can be hesitant to express themselves for fear of the social ramifications of their opinion—can only help both sides, especially during the politically tense period of history we are going through.
Developing a humanized foundation of the left and right on campus is key to starting this conversation. Beginning these talks with the mutual understanding of identity salience and the self affirmation of it has been shown to nurture open-mindedness and perceptual flexibility in polarized political discussions. Moreover, in continuing a dialogue where one explains their policy preferences, mechanistic explanations have shown to even moderate one’s political views.
On a campus where we liken inclusivity to the divine and where liberals are in a position of power in terms of sheer numbers, we must do our best to not shy away from political ideologies we do not agree with. This does not mean silencing our views; given the dangers of a Trump administration, keeping liberals quiet isn’t the answer. What it does mean is to provide a space for conflicting political ideas and to listen—honestly and open-mindedly—to the conservative friend from class, our roommate that dips their toes in libertarianism, or a familiar face that’s a part of the Dems. In doing so, we can lessen the onslaught of an avalanche, choosing to find beauty in the four seasons instead.
Jessenia N. Class ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology concentrator in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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