For many on the right, discussing politics has become rather taboo on University campuses. University’s to them, seem dominated by a certain political ideology. That ideology is left wing in nature. The data somewhat backs up this idea. A paper by the Adam Smith Institute found that less than 12% of academics in British Universities would identify as right wing or centre right. In America, that number was 9.2%.
What about the student body? Well, in Ireland, well over 75% of individuals between the ages of 18-24 voted yes in the Gay Marriage referendum. 87% of the same demographic voted to repeal the 8th amendment. Research conducted by Dr M. Wattenburg also suggests that young people tend to vote in favour of more left-wing policies. Therefore, we could be inferred that the majority of University students tend to be left-leaning.
However, Universities leaning to the left politically is not a new phenomenon. The issue that many have with the political skew of Universities is the feeling that there is no place for those who do not share the majority’s opinions or beliefs. According to one Irish Times article by Jack Power, many conservative students interviewed said they felt alienated and as if they did not belong. When these students do attempt to organize speaking events or speeches, they are greeted with considerable backlash.
Take for example the backlash faced when Nigel Farage came to speak at Trinity College. Online petitions were created calling for his talk to be cancelled, Facebook was set alight with comments and posts protesting his appearance. Right-wing commentator and self-styled ‘Professional Provocateur’, Milo Yiannopolous, was greeted here in UCD with protests during his talk in 2016. Another example was that of the Israeli ambassador who was due to give a speech in Trinity College back in 2017. Due to considerable backlash from Trinity College students, the event was cancelled just minutes before it was scheduled to begin.
These are not isolated incidents. In fact, they were part of a disturbing trend sweeping University campuses globally. Numerous conservatives and right-wing speakers have become victims of a phenomenon known as ‘No-Platforming’. This involves starving people whom you disagree with of a platform to speak. This is accomplished by students disrupting speaking events, such as the Ben Shapiro speech at the University of Ohio. Another way this is achieved is by simply refusing to allow an individual to come and speak, as Shapiro also faced in Grand Canyon University. Once again, the cancellation of the Israeli ambassador’s speech to Trinity College is an example of this that is much closer to home.
This shows that many Universities are becoming increasingly intolerant of viewpoints that don’t reflect what they see as the acceptable standard. It has the potential to alienate many students. One only has to look at what is happening in University campuses in America to see the damage that this can cause.
The problem this creates is that it threatens to push many students to the extremes of many political debates. According to one political theory, people are motivated to act against what they see as injustices against their ‘in-groups’. The more actions that are seen to be taken against the group; the more likely individuals are to act out as a result.
The 2017 riots in the University of Berkeley show us this. Violence erupted from both sides as right-wing activists protested against attempts to have speakers and events shut down by University staff. 20 people were arrested in one day alone, according to the Berkeley police department (BPD). Students from both sides were attacked with bottles, knives and even a bike lock, according to the BPD. This shows us the damage that a lack of a clear and calm debate can have on university campuses.
On a more basic level, this intolerance can hurt academic debate. Universities are sites of learning and discussion. It is in their nature. They are institutions of education. They allow people to expose themselves to new ideas that help breathe new life and discussions and movements. People learn by having their ideas about the world challenged. One of the great examples of this in action is in the various speeches given at Oxford’s Union Society. Speakers come from all manner of backgrounds. Former English Defense League leader Tommy Robinson, Black Lives Matter Activists, even former US Secretary of State, John Kerry have all given speeches.
As a result, people get to hear and see the opinions of the leaders of movements they may oppose. They can ask questions, debate and discuss. They can also learn new ideas and correct misinformation they may believe about the opposition. This creates something missing from Universities, dialogue.
It is very difficult to change people’s minds, especially about political issues. It’s not so much about trying to change minds as it is creating an atmosphere in which people are not afraid to debate and discuss issues. No-platforming damages debate. Ignoring and silencing alternative views stops both sides from discovering new ideas. Instead, ask people why they support who they support, learn why they think the way they do. By doing so, you encourage more people to listen to what you believe. You invite discussion and debate and pave the way for change.
By Marcus Dupuy – Features Writer