Illiberal Arts

As I finish my
junior year, I’m looking forward to what senior year has in store for me: the
completion of my major and my minor, graduation, the last hurrah with the
friends I have made over the last three years, and the opportunity to put all the final
touches on my Claremont experience. But looking back at this past year, I’ve
also begun to think about what has changed since I came back in September: I have noticed how Claremont students are starting to express
their opinions, and more importantly, listen to each other more than they did before.

When I wrote “We
Must Take Control of Our Own Humanity” for TSL back in November, I expressed my concerns
about the way we engage with individuals whose views differ from our own. As I
write this, I can honestly say some progress has been attained. However, I
firmly believe that there is more that we, as the Claremont community, can do.

What we have
accomplished is an open expression of dialogue on hot-button issues, ranging
from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to mental health, from workers’ wages to
divestment, and from feminism to Greek life, to name just a few. Both the
discussions that I’ve had personally with my peers and those that I’ve overheard have
triggered interesting debates, and at times even those occasional “aha” moments
when people who thought they disagreed with each other realized that they were
really on the same page.

For example, the issue of divestment has been a huge
conversation at Pitzer College this past year. That conversation resulted in something
being done about it, and on top of that, we had skeptics, who questioned the
plausibility of fossil fuel divestment, coming to an agreement with others who
believed in the divestment cause.

The most stunning
conversations I have had came from discussing Greek life. I chose to apply
to Pitzer in part to avoid Greek life, believing that
fraternities and sororities led to reckless and devastating life choices. When I
look back at myself from three years ago, I am still in awe that I recently
became a brother and founding father of Claremont’s Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter.
During the process that culminated in my initiation, I started conversing with
my peers about why I changed my mind so drastically. In doing so, I realized
how many students, from all different schools, actually like the idea of
introducing Greek life to campus. These kinds of fruitful debates are why I
came to Claremont in the first place.

Having taken a prominent
part in the Israel-Palestine discussion in Claremont, I know I’ve personally
changed how I look at the conflict after meeting with others, who openly
critiqued my opinions in person while also giving me the opportunity to explain
why I hold my views. Working through problems face to face and
getting to know people for who they are and what they believe are
quintessential parts of respect and open-mindedness. I may never see eye
to eye with everyone I meet, nor do I expect them all to agree with me; rather,
I hope we come to mutually respect one another while engaging in peaceful,
thoughtful, and inspiring dialogue. At least for myself, I know I am starting
to rethink whether much of the Claremont consortium is truly as closed-minded as
I’d thought.

That
being said, I am still concerned about the level to which closed-mindedness here
is not only prominent, but thriving. Some of the conversations I’ve heard about
domestic politics, such as issues of gun control and Democrats vs. Republicans,
are extraordinarily difficult to have. I am not saying this from personal
experience alone, but also from observing others on campus. Last week’s issue
of TSL contained a sample of opinions
about the GOP’s outlook in 2014, and I could not help but see that the
responses were overwhelmingly of a liberal bent. Granted, I am not always the
biggest fan of the GOP myself, but I have grown more moderate during my time in
Claremont, and I can understand the GOP’s point of view on various issues. It
would have been nice to see some conservative opinions arise in the conversation,
rather than an all-out assault from the liberal left.

I worry that the
overwhelming power of liberal attitudes in Claremont causes some to shun the colleges in fear of being heavily criticized for their views. What is this
going to mean for the class of 2018? What would happen if the consortium
accepted more conservatives? Personally, I think it would encourage more
dialogue. But would the rest of the Claremont bubble allow them the chance to
speak without being disrespected? That is what I worry about still.

I want to end with
a message to pass down to the incoming first-years of Claremont. The Claremont
Colleges distinguish themselves as liberal and open-minded, but we have had
some difficulty living up to the latter. The class of 2018 faces a dangerous
reality: They will meet liberal-minded individuals who can also, ironically, be extremely illiberal—both closed-minded and intolerant. 

How
should we counter this? We should embrace
the opinions of all, whether we agree with them or not. It is critical to take
ownership of our own humanity, and to recognize the humanity of those with whom we
disagree vehemently. We cannot sustain our closed-minded attitudes without compromising
the fundamental values that Claremont tries to instill in us.

Elliott Hamilton PZ ’15 is majoring in economics. He is the president-elect of Claremont Students for Israel, and serves as the Jewish Identity Chairman for Alpha Epsilon Pi’s Chi Chi chapter. 

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