Staff Editorial

Professors Should Turn Student Discord into Open, Respectful Classroom Discussion

Photo courtesy of Heather Eidson | Loyola University ChicagoMarymargaret Sharp-Pucci, PhD, teaches a Health Systems Management class at the Lake Shore Campus Aug. 30, 2016.

It’s become common in media to see students on college campuses protesting, and Loyola is no exception — students here have protested controversial speakers, walked out of class to show solidarity with undocumented immigrants and rallied for dining hall workers’ rights.

While students disseminate their views on a large scale, less is said about the day-to-day dissemination of views by professors across the Lake Shore and Water Tower campuses.

It’s not breaking news to say that college professors get political and that many lean left. A 2007 Harvard University study called “The Social and Political Views of American Professors” found that 46 percent of professors surveyed identified as moderates, but most leaned more liberal.

This liberalism can become controversial. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a staunch conservative, decried professors telling students what to believe in a February speech.

“The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think,” DeVos said. “They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”

Last fall, The PHOENIX reported on a history class offered during the spring 2017 semester about slavery — into which professor John Donoghue had also managed to incorporate President Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump is not the main feature of the course,” Donoghue said at the time. “But, not to mention Donald Trump’s name in a course on slavery and race in 2017 would be me ignoring the relevance … in our own times.”

This editorial board has had its fair share of professors at Loyola who’ve shown no qualms about voicing their distastes for Trump. And Donoghue is partially right — his course shouldn’t ignore the reality of Trump, especially after Trump refused to immediately denounce white supremacists and neo-Nazis when they marched on Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

Professors should be free to share their opinions as long as they don’t ostracize students or other members of the conversation who don’t agree with them.

What should be the protocol, then, when a student just doesn’t see eye-to-eye with their professor? Or when a professor wants to share their conservative beliefs?

Even as schools across the nation continue to embrace a “safe space” mentality, meaning there are spaces on campus free from extreme viewpoints that could be seen as triggering for certain students, college still is, and always will be, a place for the free expression of ideas, an intermingling of viewpoints and a chance for discussion.

The University of Chicago controversially denounced safe spaces at the beginning of its 2016-17 academic year, students at DePaul University protested May 24, 2016 — and subsequently drove out — contentious former Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopoulos when he was booked to speak, and in 2006, conservative commentator Ann Coulter walked out during a talk she gave on Loyola’s campus following extensive student demonstrations and heckling.

Loyola students have often shown solidarity with marginalized peers when it comes to issues including undocumented immigrants, the fight for a higher minimum wage, race relations with police officers and LGBT rights.

What should happen, then, when a student raises their hand in class and voices an unpopular opinion on Loyola’s campus, such as agreement with Trump’s policies?

If Loyola students truly believe in solidarity with their peers, it’s important to recognize their opinion and engage with them even if the majority disagrees.

Students are still shaping their viewpoints. Even at the college level, we’re all still learning. Instead of shooting down opposing views, it’s the job of professors to teach students to make sure they’re arguing those views in a sound and reasonable way, and calling them out if their opinions are baseless.

In this way, professors aren’t discouraging viewpoints, but rather making sure students with views on hot button issues are equipped with the mindset they need to back up that opinion with facts.

And if, in the search of those facts, those students discover that maybe they were wrong and adjust their views, the professor has done something extraordinary.

We’re by no means excusing hateful viewpoints. Such views are still prevalent today, and they shouldn’t be tolerated. There’s a difference between that and say, tax policy.

In this era of extreme divisiveness in the political world, college students can be countercultural.

Progressive thought and respect for all viewpoints aren’t mutually exclusive. Colleges can still be the front lines for social justice revolutions while also remaining conscious of the fact that openness to a dialogue when disagreements arise is the exact tenet that allows campuses to lead the nation in social movements.

Students who want to partake in these kinds of discussions can enroll in classes taught by professors who’ve been known to speak openly about their sociocultural identities or political views with students or join extracurriculars that foster open discussion spaces regardless of student background.

As one example, Loyola will begin offering a UNIV 102 course this spring called “You and Your Write Mind,” designed and lead by alumni Janay Moore and Mohammedi Khan. This class will serve as a “place where it is safe to speak,” regardless of one’s identity, Moore said, through creative writing and open dialogue. Students liberal, conservative or otherwise are welcome to share their stories respectfully in this inclusive space.

Students can follow Moore and Khan in creating these spaces for themselves where they see there are few, inviting others of different viewpoints and starting a respectful dialogue with one another. Perhaps even the professors will join in.

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