A few months ago, I rushed through the yard at an excited pace toward my first class at Harvard. After getting lost multiple times, I burst into my Government lecture five minutes late. I plunked myself down into a nearby seat and listened: “Notable alumni of this lecture include … and Jared Kushner. Just kidding, Jared Kushner did not take this class. Trust me, if Jared Kushner had taken this class, we would be much, much better off than we are right now.
I attended the same high school that Jared C. Kushner ’03 attended, where students, faculty, and administrators loved to boast about Kushner, their favorite alumnus. Though I am fairly moderate, I was considered to be the token liberal in my high school. Whenever politics came up at the lunch table, I was labeled as a “radical, stupid leftist.” Friends and teachers were aghast when I mentioned that I was voting for Clinton. My political views were the butt of many jokes.
So, on my first day of college, I was relieved to finally be on the laughing side.
But soon, my mind wandered to a quick calculation. Looking around, I realized there were probably 200 people shopping that class. Even at a liberal campus like Harvard, there must have been some students feeling ostracized due to their political views, just like I had been in high school.
The truth is that while these jokes seem innocent, they mask a truth far more sinister. Here at Harvard, conservative voices on campus are delegitimized and suppressed. I have seen this first hand. Once in Annenberg, a student told me that racist Trump supporters in her state prevented a Democrat from winning a Senate seat. With this comment, she casually labeled all those who voted for Trump in her state to be racist. Her words shocked me. Even one who believes that the president is a racist cannot assume that the fifty percent of the country that voted for him are all racist as well.
This reveals a dangerous symptom of contemporary polarization: the misconstruction of opposing narratives. Many conservatives understand the virtues of conservative ideology but have warped conceptions of liberal beliefs. Likewise, many liberals can’t fathom the virtues of conservative values. Instead, they wrongly assume that racist motives guide most conservatives. Hillary Clinton grossly generalized half of all Trump supporters as “deplorables,” and from conversations I’ve had the past few months I think that many Harvard students and faculty would agree. This defamation delegitimizes conservative voices and silences them.
As liberals on campus, we emphasize inclusion and diversity when it comes to race, gender, and sexual orientation. However, we simultaneously stifle ideological diversity and label conservative voices as backward thinking bigots. As Nicholas D. Kristof ’82 describes liberal intolerance: “We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.”
Alternative political and ideological views should not be the cause for shame on campus. On the contrary, we should celebrate a diversity of thought amongst the student body as the foundation of the university as a marketplace of ideas. Instead, we have fostered an environment hostile to different political views in order to create an artificial sense of consensus.
This echo-chamber hurts us all. Most of the learning we do in college takes place in the cafeteria, not the classroom. The admissions office worked hard to accept a diverse student body so that we could learn from each other. By silencing conservative voices, we lose out on this experience.
Silencing alternative voices also weakens the liberal mainstream. Strong ideas and values arise from debate and struggle with different philosophies, not from reinforcement and patting each other on the back.
This intolerance is not only the fault of the student body. The faculty and administration are equally to blame. A survey run by the Crimson last year on members of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences found that about 38 percent of faculty identified as very liberal and an additional 45 percent identified as liberal, whereas less than 2 percent of the faculty identify as either conservative or very conservative. The same survey found that 88 percent of faculty think the president is doing a very poor job and another 8 percent said he is doing just a poor job. Only 1 percent of faculty said they believe Trump is doing a good job and no respondents said Trump is doing a very good job — not one. Ideological diversity clearly does not seem to be a priority for Harvard during its hiring process. As a result, conservative students are left without mentors and liberal students don’t have the benefit of hearing any challenging ideas.
Universities are supposed to be a place where young people of diverse backgrounds come together to partake in a great exchange of ideas. However, my college experience so far has been a liberal rubber stamp. If there is any platform in which the entrenched polarization of America can be uprooted, it is at the university. Yet at Harvard, polarization is enhanced by the continual delegitimization of alternative ideologies. Students and professors must strive to correct this, both by being conscious of their own language and biases and by striving to create an environment that is open to all ideologies.
Jonathan L. Katzman ‘22, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Hurlbut Hall.