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Students reflect on openness of campus dialogue

By Polina Potochevska

Section: Features

October 14, 2016

Last week, the Features section of The Brandeis Hoot investigated the diversity of political ideas on campus. After a poll was distributed to about 500 students, it was revealed that 27 percent of the student body usually does not share their political opinions, and four percent never share. For those students who said that they hesitate to share their political opinions, 40 percent said it was because they feared verbal attacks.

“If you have an opinion that isn’t what the majority thinks, it’s hard to share it without being verbally attacked and feeling judged for it,” said an anonymous senior. The anonymous student also mentioned that “both sides of political discussion should be on campus, but only one side is.” Other students also mentioned that liberal thought is the majority on campus and how it affects the academic atmosphere. “I’ve noticed that being a liberal campus, someone with conservative opinions is hesitant [to share political views], and it’s a problem,” Itay Kazaz ’20 said.

“Politically conservative students don’t feel comfortable expressing academic opinions … I feel like there is something wrong with that,” William Amara ’17 said about the poll results. In his opinion, “If there’s no dialogue, if no one feels comfortable discussing political opinions, that leaves open the door for slander of people’s opinions.”

Amara’s thought was echoed by other students, like Olivia Tardif ’18, who worries about being verbally attacked for her views after being “insulted and called names” after posting a written opinion piece online a few months ago. Victoria Sharaga ’20 is hesitant to share political opinions because she is “afraid that people would judge me.”

Not every student had these views, however, such as Alessia Stewart ‘20 who said, “I think because I’m more liberal, I’m not afraid of being attacked. But I welcome people challenging my beliefs.” This reflects the poll results, which show that Brandeis has a majority of students who identify as liberal and feel more comfortable sharing their political opinions than their conservative counterparts.

For Charles and Michael, both juniors who asked that their last names be withheld, political discussion was something that they felt was very important “in the college setting.” Charles said that “if we were sheltered in a bubble, we would never learn anything different. It’s good to hear conservative voices; you don’t have to agree, but you can reflect.”

Tardif also mentioned that at Brandeis, “We are in this bubble but it’s important for us to talk about real world things.” Michael said that he has noticed “that to disagree with someone means you shouldn’t be talking,” and Charles added, “When you talk, you don’t listen; we need to listen to each other also.”

All interviewed students agreed that there should be political discussion on campus. “Brandeis students should discuss politics in public, especially at a university that is supposed to believe in social justice,” said Amara.

“The only way that things will get done is with discussion, as long as it is done respectfully,” Stewart explained. While Kazaz said that discussion “is an important part of gaining knowledge,” he also mentioned that “there are not many safe spaces for everyone” to voice their opinions without fearing retribution.

Sharaga brought up the fact that political discussion is necessary on campus, “especially during this election. It’s intense.”

In the poll, 31 percent of the students answered “other” for the reason that they hesitate to share their political opinions on campus, elaborating they felt that they did not know enough to share their opinions.

Michael said that “to not have [political] discussions is to miss out on world views.” Amara stated that “most people know at least something [about the election] … People feel like their political voices don’t matter. Every voice matters … every voice is a good voice to have in political dialogue to sort out problems.” He added that from his experience, “Brandeis students … would rather say nothing than say something that people disagree with.”

Most interviewed students agreed that open political discussion on campus would be ideal, but as Michael mentioned from his experience in the classroom, the environment in certain situations is “more tense than it should be.”

The poll reveals insight into the way that politics are discussed, or restrained, on campus. “If Brandeis students could discuss diverging opinions respectfully, while listening to diverging opinions, the political climate of Brandeis would be much more hospitable,” Amara said.

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