In keeping with a tradition of making far-fetched and controversial claims, Rick Santorum called President Barack Obama a “snob” for encouraging all Americans to go to college. He further accused universities of attempting to indoctrinate people with liberal values.
Though the comment sounds too much like a poorly thought-out conspiracy theory to be taken at face value, the deeper point that Santorum was trying to make holds some truth.
In an interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Santorum spoke against the “politically correct left doctrine” at universities and advocated for more conservative Christian principles in institutions of higher education. The problem is not nearly as extreme as Santorum makes it out to be, but it is true that conservative students, especially those with Christian backgrounds, tend to feel as if their views are invalid in universities like USC.
As a university, USC encourages inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. Many students, however, have not followed the university’s lead.
When politics comes up in a conversation and a student mentions his or her conservatism, that person often becomes the rhetorical punching bag of the conversation.
Apparently, since the student is a conservative — or even more objectionable, a conservative Christian — his or her viewpoint is no longer valid.
Students who criticize others for their conservative beliefs must respect these other views and learn from them. In doing so, we can foster a more accepting and vibrant political atmosphere.
Contrary to what Santorum argues, the bias against conservative Christians is not an entirely institutional one, at least not at USC. A couple of weeks ago, the late conservative activist Andrew Breitbart participated in a Students Talk Back panel, presented by the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.
This is not an issue that can be fixed by hiring more conservative professors and creating more courses that reflect conservative principles — nor should it be. To attempt to change people’s minds about a certain political ideology through education would be wrong, regardless of what that ideology is.
What is essential is the building of respect for differing views at the student level. Students with more popular political leanings must treat conservatives as their intellectual equals. Bipartisan events such as those the Unruh Institute puts on foster respectful debate and could be a valuable tool for increasing the conservative presence on campus.
None of this is to say that anyone must go out of their way to include the conservative viewpoint in every conversation. What is important is that all students feel welcome to speak their mind without being dismissed. Only then will USC reach its full potential as a university with a politically engaged student body, breaking from a long history of relative political apathy and inaction.
Sarah Cueva is a sophomore majoring in Middle East studies and political science. Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.
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