Conservative-leaning students express concern for lack of intellectual diversity
SF State ranks in the top 21 percent of surveyed universities in overall diversity, and top 2 percent when rated specifically for ethnic diversity, according to College Factual, but some students are feeling a lack of diversity on campus.
The University has embraced these kinds of statistics in the past, publishing articles on the communications page to highlight things like the University’s ethnic and economic diversity rate, given by U.S. News & World Report in 2013.
SF State may be known for ethnic and racial diversity, but since the election of President Trump, certain students feel the University could be doing more to foster different viewpoints and encourage the acceptance of different political opinions on campus.
The Republican Student Union is the only active right-leaning student organization on campus, where members claim to face criticism in their day-to-day lives because of the University’s liberal spirit.
Brian May, RSU vice president, said he joined the organization in order to communicate his thoughts and political views without being judged. However, when using a platform to reach out to students on campus, such as tabling, expressing political views that differ from the predominant one becomes challenging.
May said the RSU faced harassment from students and people walking by when tabling for Donald Trump during the campaign season last year.
“Some people would come over and try to push our members and throw our papers,” May said. “We were giving out Constitutions and people would rip them up.”
May said that after Trump won the election, the RSU no longer tabled, as it might put some members in danger.
Johnny Khu, a senior studying political science and a member of the Political Science Student Association, said he wants to see RSU members table again in the future.
“I would love it if (the RSU) got out there and just expressed their opinions and have people listen to them … Have that constructive dialogue,” Khu said.
Karina Gomez, a biology major and new member of the RSU, said she feels the organization is “somewhat a safe space” for her on campus to discuss her political beliefs as a right-leaning Libertarian.
“It’s pretty rare to have a woman (and) person of color as part of a Republican Student Union,” Gomez said. “I joined because I feel like (I) don’t identify with any other group at the school. I feel like I’m not welcomed for my beliefs and I’m labeled …– or, I’m mislabeled for something that I’m not.”
Both May and Gomez said they feel a discomfort on campus because of the liberal environment.
May said he feels that discussing political opinions in classroom settings can be difficult because some liberal-minded professors may disagree with his views.
“It’s hard to speak out when, you know, 98 percent of the class believes in what the teacher’s saying,” May said. “If the teacher’s preaching that, they’re just gonna keep going to that left. Teachers should be showing more viewpoints.”
May feels President Wong and some faculty members use rhetoric that does not protect conservative-leaning students, which is a big problem in his view.
Amy Kilgard, a professor from the communications department, said looking at the facts of a topic, recognizing that different individuals’ thoughts are not monolithic, and having difficult discussions – those discussions with foundationally challenging viewpoints – with one another are some areas professors could improve.
Kilgard said she believes individuals with more conservative-leaning views may feel like they do not have proper spaces to share their opinions.
“The idea of a safe classroom has never existed,” Kilgard said. “Even though we have the desire to create safe classrooms, ‘safe’ always means safe for some people and not for others.”
Mary Kenny, a University spokesperson, said the University encourages any member of the community who feels unsafe or threatened to contact the University Police Department.
The University is committed to ensuring a safe and welcoming campus environment for our entire community, protecting the freedom of expression for all members of the campus community, and providing a space in which diverse ideas and opinions can be exchanged,” Kenny said. “This includes the Republican Student Association.”
The RSU contacted the UPD after an incident in which a member was attacked while tabling last September. Following the UPD’s instructions, RSU contacted the department to have UPD representatives present for a future tabling session, but received no response.
According to Troy Liddi, UPD lieutenant, units responded to the incident, and upon investigation learned that no parties involved in the incident wanted to pursue any further action.
“We have a vested interest in protecting all student organizations here on campus,” Liddi said. “If such activities cross the line into criminal conduct, we take these violations seriously.”
Kilgard said that while she thinks there are many reasons for a large division in thinking, echo chambers seem to play a significant role.
“If I am a person who believes one set of things, I go to the channels that tend to reinforce or replicate those things I believe in,” Kilgard said. “I hear the same things over and over and they become entrenched in my feelings.”
Kilgard added that she does not believe society should see itself as divided, but should instead acknowledge that individuals have different opinions and complexity.
Dr. Javon Johnson, performance and communication studies assistant professor, said he doesn’t see much of a divide in regards to present-day communication, and that there have always been disagreements between groups in society throughout history.
“I think we like to think of ourselves in these sort of magical, historical moments,” Johnson said.
Johnson went on to compare present-day political rhetoric to the civil rights era, conveying a perpetual divide in the way people have thought throughout history. According to Johnson, the idea that liberal-minded professors can affect the learning of conservatives students is a concept “designed to protect an already advantaged group.”
“What I’m more concerned with is what’s happening with the most disadvantaged students in this so-called ‘liberal University,’” Johnson said.
Johnson also said that articles identifying university campuses as liberal or conservative is something he does not personally agree with. He said while universities can be known as liberal, they can also have conservative practices.
Khu said he does not feel the University creates an environment where different opinions can be debated, adding that it is ultimately up to the students to demand such environments and create more dialogue – even suggesting open-debate events for students who wish to participate.
“You need a good format to have these sorts of conversations,” Khu said.
Ian Thompson, also a member of the Political Science Student Association, said it’s unfortunate people are unwilling to hear one side of an issue because they want to feel morally superior.
“We have to let go of our moral superiority for 10 minutes to listen to what other people have to say,” Thompson said. “It would be helpful to understand what life is like for other people.
Both May and Gomez said conservative-leaning students ultimately just want their ideas to be heard.
“We need to show them we have a common ground with them and we’re all pretty much going for the same thing,” Gomez said. “We’re all trying to reach the same goal, pretty much.”