Political Polarization at the 5Cs is Harming Our Education

(Dominic Frempong • The Student Life)

My elementary, middle, and high schools were progressive institutions with pervasive liberal groupthink atmospheres. The schools were so liberal that we were forbidden from wearing camo print, playing with water guns, or including toy swords in our Halloween costumes because, apparently, these actions promoted violence.

Policies like these were theoretically supposed to make us more progressive, but all they did was annoy me. Although my progressive political views never conflicted with my school’s liberal consensus, I came to a liberal arts college because I wanted an environment with genuine dialogue, political and otherwise.

I wanted to learn from my classmates’ experiences and opinions. At Pomona, I have done this for the most part — but not politically.

The political realm is a bizarre exception to the genuine open-mindedness of the Claremont colleges. Students here tend to equate political beliefs with both a person’s moral goodness and their intellectual worthwhileness.

The ultra-liberal majority regards conservatives as evil, heartless, and cartoonish. The conservative/libertarian minority believes that college liberals are stupid, delusional, and unlikely ever to find gainful employment. Paradoxically, the college I chose for its open-mindedness and intellectual discovery sometimes seems more narrow-minded than my high school class, which had exactly one Republican in it.

The intolerant approach to political discourse at this school is bizarre and troubling, because the most accurate predictors of someone’s political beliefs are the political beliefs of their parents and the political atmosphere of the background in which they grew up. A 2005 Gallup poll found that 71 percent of teenagers plan to vote with the same political party as their parents, even if their views skew slightly more liberal or conservative.

Whether we admit it or not, most of us would be Republicans if we were born in a Republican household and raised around Republicans, and vice versa for Democrats. Judging someone purely based on their political affiliation is hardly different from judging someone based on their background.

Often, the assumption in Claremont is that the education here will cure students of their unacceptable, politically incorrect political beliefs. This is nonsensical, because different people with different personalities and beliefs respond differently to the same information.

A gender studies class will not make a conservative into a progressive, nor will an economics class somehow turn a hardcore leftist into a dedicated capitalist, even if both these classes present information that I personally regard as enlightening or educational. Their original beliefs might even harden. This would not make them bad people, just people who happen to disagree with me.

Obviously, there are rare examples of people at the 5Cs who think themselves out of the conservative belief systems that they grew up with (or liberal belief systems, though I suspect that newly anointed conservatives are quieter about their political metamorphoses). However, these are exceptions to the rule, since most people are destined to have political beliefs that mirror their parents’.

The closed-mindedness of judging people’s morality and intellectual heft based on their political beliefs is detrimental to a comprehensive education. The student body in Claremont does its best to not judge people based on superficial factors like class or nationality, but everyone is expected to be equally ‘woke,’ meaning ultra-liberal. It is impossible to maintain this expectation of all of one’s friends and classmates without sacrificing one’s open-mindedness.

Because of this extreme political polarization, the political climate on campus sometimes seems like a collection of extremist echo chambers with little exchange between them. There are student organizations, secret Facebook pages, and even entire friend groups premised on isolating oneself solely with people who agree politically.

These groups, depending on their political affiliation, tend to believe that campus culture is either insanely left-wing and politically correct or neoliberal and ‘problematic’. In my experience, there is barely any interaction between these groups.

I understand the desire to be with people who share your core beliefs. It can be hard to forge deep friendships with people you regard as fundamentally different from yourself. We have to try anyway.

Avoiding people who think differently from you means that you are, inevitably, avoiding people who have different backgrounds from you. And after graduation, you will probably interact mostly with people like yourself. Why would we not want to take advantage of this strange opportunity to interact with people who are different from us, even if the conversations we have are sometimes uncomfortable?

The students here have so much to offer. It is time that we let ourselves and our peers embrace our differences and engage in real political dialogue.

Kate Dolgenos PO '17 is a politics major from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She wears better shoes than you.