College students are considerably divided in terms of their political beliefs, a 2004 Harvard Institute of Politics study has found.
Thirty-one percent consider themselves Republicans, 27 percent identify with the Democratic Party and the rest are either Independent or do not care one way or the other.
Political science Professor John Queen has observed that these numbers are evident in the more advanced courses he teaches, like comparative and world politics, in which students are more vocal because “they tend to be further along in their education and have more to say.”
Adam Seal, 23, on the other hand, belongs to the substantially large proportion of other students who are still exploring their options; he is neither a Republican or a Democrat. His political beliefs are just beliefs, not set in stone, and he is willing to change them if given a better alternative.
This was the basis of a give-and-take he recently had with philosophy Professor Kenneth Locke, who does not himself fully identify with either party. He walked away with an idea.
“I decided to come up with a club, the Freedom Club,” said Seal. “The agenda of that club is to get together and to just discuss topics…whatever is on your mind. We’ll cover stuff from Nietzsche to Marx. And even Dirty Harry had some pretty interesting things to say.”
“It’s basically designed so that you can come with any viewpoint that you want and no one is going to personally attack you for that viewpoint, but we will discuss it,” said Seal. “Hopefully, it will help students either to define their own views a little more or it might help them to see a better choice to make.”
Seal did not feel there was an urgent need for such a club until he attended another club’s meeting on campus and discovered that it was not the kind of organization that nurtured free speech or free thinking because their beliefs were pretty much set in stone.
Stephen Zhener, 27, observes that the same thing happens in classroom discussions when students cannot participate because “if one person thinks the class is going one way and that they’re the minority with their beliefs, they won’t speak up.”
Gordon Alexandre, professor of U.S. history, attributes this problem to instructors who “don’t have a student-friendly classroom because they put forward their opinions and think that’s the only opinion and
that they can intimidate students…and silence discussion when the opposite should
be true. You should encourage discussion.”
Alexandre is not alone in thinking this. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a national watchdog organization that specializes in colleges and universities, surveyed students from the top 50 colleges in the country and found that half of them had professors who expressed their political views in class.
“A professor has to let students know that this is only one opinion, one interpretation, and that we don’t have a monopoly on the truth,” said Alexandre. “I don’t think you should shy away from your opinion.”
Zhener, who has had Alexandre as a professor, agrees with this sentiment because “it’s an attempt to get the students to think to question what they assume to be fact and they can prove themselves right just as easily.”
Seal admits that “it’s hard to change my ideas when being presented with different ones because people associate that with having their egos attacked, and
so it’s hard for people to do that.”
The trick, he says, is to look
at it as a “great lesson to learn…whether it be in an institution or in life…by learning humility [and] to allow some of your ideas to be corrected by others…to let go of a few and then hold on to those ideas you really feel are important, and to constantly do that throughout your life.” Seal hopes students will walk away from his club having learned this lesson.
“It’s to try to get people to understand that there is a reason why people make certain choices and the reason itself is not too different,” said Seal. “People are coming from the same area…they just want to get to a goal using a different route… there is still common ground.”
The Freedom Club meets the first and third Thursday of every month at noon in LB200. All are welcome to come and speak out.