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At Harvard, political polarization has led to silence and lack of civil discussion. Despite a high population of politically active students, there is relatively little to no dialogue between those with different political views. While the University could aid in addressing this problem, it is primarily the responsibility of the student body to change this attitude toward politics.
As a conservative, I have always faced difficulty expressing my political opinions. From class discussions where the majority held an opposing opinion to one-on-one conversations where expression of my beliefs was met with disrespect and hostility, I struggled to find my voice. In high school, I was a minority in a school that was overwhelmingly liberal. When I created the Teenage Republicans club at my high school, my intention was never to be a conservative activist. Rather, it was to be a political conversationalist. I brought this sentiment with me to Harvard knowing the liberal lean of this campus.
Despite my initial fear of being a lone conservative voice, I knew discourse was critical to upholding the democratic values of our country. I hoped to change the state of politics in my community by being enriched by different perspectives at Harvard. I desired to be an advocate for a conducive society where everyone is able to freely discuss their different political opinions. I expected that Harvard students could understand that while we may disagree we could do so respectfully. I expected that Harvard students would be able to see that even our vehement disagreement was not rooted in hatred for one another but in a stronger shared passion: the desire to see and do what is best for our country. I expected freedom of thought and expression. I expected maturity. However, it seemed I expected too much.
At Harvard, I have witnessed a lack of intellectual maturity and civil discussion on multiple occasions. For example, during the Kavanaugh hearings, I found myself having to justify my point of view from an onslaught of attacks and insults. My friend and I went to a Kavanaugh protest just to have a civil discussion with those on the opposing side; instead, we were yelled at and told to leave. Earlier this month, when I attempted to express my pro-life beliefs, I was again met with disrespect and demonization instead of civility and maturity. I would expect to see this at my high school, but not at one of the best academic institutions in the world. Harvard prides itself on being an institution that promotes diversity and inclusion. However, I do not see this correlation to diversity of thought and opinion. What is the point of everyone looking different but thinking the same?
Harvard cannot call itself a diverse academic institution without creating spaces where civil discourse can flourish. Conservatives are by far a small minority in higher education and at Harvard. It begs the question if this is due to the qualifications of conservative applicants or justifiable concerns conservatives might have about attending schools with an overwhelming liberal majority. If it is the latter, Harvard and its student body must aim to change the campus atmosphere. The goal of education is to expose students to new concepts and ideas through teaching them to interact with different perspectives. If higher education becomes dominated by an echo chamber culture where expression of differing opinions is met by hostility, then the very purpose of education is defeated.
One way the student body can address this problem is by making current conservative students and potential applicants feel more comfortable voicing their opinions by inviting conservative speakers. Student groups such as the Harvard College Open Campus Initiative, whose goal is to invite a diverse array of speakers to campus to challenge the dominant political opinion and open discourse, should be promoted more. Even groups like the Harvard Democrats, Harvard Republicans, or Harvard Libertarians Club could make efforts to promote civil discussion between their organizations without the pretenses of debate or argument, such as holding monthly gatherings where members from different groups have lunch and talk about issues in a friendly respectful manner. Outside of student groups, we as individuals should make the effort to converse with those with whom we disagree. I know I myself tend to only interact with conservatives who share my ideology. We should, however, take the initiative to step outside of our comfort zone and echo chambers to converse with those holding opposing views.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana claims that the Harvard experience should be “transformative.” But how can minds be transformed if differing opinions are shut down? Harvard claims that its mission is to “educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society,” but it creates a campus where conservatives and others who hold minority opinions feel marginalized for speaking their mind. If Harvard and its student body want to live up to the mission it claims to serve, then it must create a campus that fosters civil discourse, no matter the issue.
Oluwatobi I. Ariyo ’22, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Canaday Hall.
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