During my freshman year in college, I covered campus politics for the Rutgers Daily Targum, one of the better college daily papers you will ever read. The stories of campus activism at Rutgers in the very late 1970s were much like they are on other campuses today, only there was a Democratic governor in New Jersey’s state house and a Democratic president in the White House. Campus protests happen no matter which party is in power.
But there is a major difference between the campus politics of “my day” versus the campus politics of today. Back in my day there were virtually no counter protests or nasty and rude countering statements to the media. The extremes were fewer, the mainstream, which was fairly non-political, was larger. Today the extremes, right or left, are much larger; the mainstream is smaller.
A college advisor has to leave it up to students and their parents to choose their school. Those who have little to no interest in politics might prefer a split or more neutral campus where life is much the same, no matter who is in office. Those who are interested in politics might prefer a school where their views will be well represented or a school where they have heard that the administration is more likely to listen to the students’ concerns.
Ideally, a college is a “small d” democratic community where students may speak out, even vote, on issues that matter to them, without repercussions to people who hold a minority opinion. It’s very hard to hold to that ideal. “Small D” Democracy is not always pretty for people who are very set in their views, especially if those views fall far out of the mainstream on campus. It is also ugly for those in the majority who do not have the maturity to confront a challenger that is well armed with words, and sometimes legitimate facts. As we’ve seen in the most recent stories about Evergreen State College (WA), among other schools, campus conflicts may capture the attention of the “outside world,” and not always in a good way.
No matter their student’s political views, a college advisor would wish that their students find a school where:
- Administrators and faculty are approachable and accessible, and include students in their relationships with the surrounding community.
- Faculty will never punish students who disagree with their views in subjects where opinions on both sides can be supported by facts.
- The administration and faculty do not need to put up with too many bureaucratic hurdles for students to be able to use a college’s services.
- Students respect differing opinions, do not bully those who do not agree with them and do not make others feel unwelcome on campus.
- Peaceful protest is permitted, but the campus and community police will end it when things get beyond peaceful.
Where’s the easiest place to find out how if a college comes close to these “ideals”? For a mid-sized or large school it will be the campus newspaper. For a smaller school, its necessary to talk to as many students outside of the admissions office to get a good picture of campus life. Its best to get that picture early to have a good preview of your future.