Campus politically polarized without a purpose
April 30, 2010
Students at the College of William and Mary are getting steadily more liberal, a survey released last week concluded. According to the campus-wide survey, conducted by government professor Ron Rapoport, 36 percent of the student body describes itself as Democratic, while only 16 percent identified with the Republican party.
This would seem to suggest that our generation is getting over its dread of government intervention, considering the possibility of a real welfare system, and getting behind gay marriage. But is this a representation of reality?
There has been an awful lot of talk about diversity at the College, recently — we just finished a weeklong “I am W&M” campaign, exploring the identities and stories of our fellow students. Indeed, it doesn’t feel like it’s possible to walk through the Crim Dell Meadow anymore without tripping over one group or another and their placards.
I’m not knocking any of that. On the contrary, I think there is a huge amount of diversity on this campus that merits reward, and I applaud those members of our student body who are willing to literally stand on a soapbox and demand rights for themselves and their friends. Somebody has to do it.
However, I can’t help but feel that the issue of diversity is a lot more complicated than which box we might be inclined to mark in a voting booth. Just because — according to this survey — 17 percent of us identify strongly with the Democratic party that doesn’t mean we are ready to throw on some tie-dye and go sit cross-legged on police cars. On the contrary, that only 23 percent of our entire student body feels strongly either way surely speaks to the indifference of students at the College.
And how can you blame us? Vote Republican and be told what is unacceptable to think — or vote Democrat and be told what you have to think. A growing number of brave soldiers might be prepared to sacrifice themselves on the libertarian altar, but let’s face it, this country is still a two-party state. You might as well vote green.
This survey tells us that students are becoming more aware of the gaping holes in their parents’ ideologies, and that they are scrambling to find something with which to fill them with. It does not tell us how much we care about what we actually use to fill these holes.
“I’m socially liberal, fiscally conservative.” That’s what I hear all over this campus. To me, this does not at all mean what the figures might suggest. It means we want to live our lives the way we choose, and that we’re perfectly happy for others to do the same. It doesn’t mean we’re willing to get up and fight for it.
We discuss politics because it makes us feel intellectual, not because we necessarily believe anything is ever going to change. We listen to other people’s opinions because our own have not yet solved the problems we see all around us.
Yes, our campus is filled with a diverse body of young men and women, but black or white, Northern or Southern, Asian or Indian, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, Democrat or Republican — or anything in between — we all sit in the same classrooms, listening to the same professors — consciously or subconsciously — reveal the same inflexible beliefs.
Whether liberal or conservative, we are immersed every day in narrow-minded views. Sure, we might happen to agree with a lot of them, but that doesn’t make them any less narrow minded.
We have youth on our side, and that gives us a huge advantage. We haven’t yet accepted that money will always make the world go round, that politicians always lie, or that the world is never going to work quite the way we’d like it to.
So, before we sink into the dark depths of bitterness and cynicism, let’s actually figure out what we think, why we think it, and what we’re going to do about it — because then we might actually earn the praise we get for our diversity.
E-mail Lucy James at [email protected]