Unpopular Opinion: Take Classes with Professors with Whom You Disagree

On every college campus in America, there are professors to avoid and professors to take. Colgate is no exception to this rule, as older students often counsel younger students on which professors they should take during their time in college. At face value, this makes a lot of sense. Maybe one professor of Econometrics is a harsher grader than another, or maybe one section of Environmental Justice will simply give students a better opportunity to learn than another. The practice of finding professors who will benefit a student’s education is natural and logical as we navigate our undergraduate years. However, a new trend is becoming more and more prevalent on campus: the purposeful avoidance of professors who do not share a student’s political beliefs. While I understand this instinct, I believe it is ultimately harmful to the diversity of thought on campus and has the potential to negatively impact the learning experience of students at Colgate. 

The infiltration of political beliefs into a broad range of disciplines in the academic world is too commonplace in my opinion. For departments such as Political Science and Economics, the political beliefs of students and professors are likely to work their way into class discussion, as much of the content of those disciplines have different interpretations depending on someone’s political viewpoint. However, in today’s world, a person’s political beliefs are now relevant in courses from biology to psychology to sociology and more. 

Colgate, like a majority of liberal arts schools and elite universities in general, is a bubble of predominantly liberal viewpoints. In Colgate’s case, this liberal bubble is nestled within a very conservative, rural part of upstate New York. Building off of this, almost 70 percent of Colgate students hail from some of the largest democratic states in the country (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York), according to the website College Factual. This essentially means that Colgate’s student body is a bubble formed from bubbles. 

Why is this important? It means that the number of students hailing from liberal states and cities likely increases the uniformity of thought on campus. This trend is natural and is the case at most of America’s elite private colleges. I believe that it does present an issue when students try to shelter themselves from new and opposing viewpoints that they have likely not had a chance to be exposed to simply based on their home states,

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit civil liberties group, “A majority of very liberal students (63%) and almost half of very conservative students (45%) agree that it is important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas.”

I cannot blame any student for avoiding ideas which they believe are intolerant or offensive; however, the ideas which fall under those umbrellas have grown so rapidly given the increasing illiberalism found on college campuses that it feels as though students no longer have any interest in even entertaining any ideas which do not align with their own. 

Personally, I did not come to Colgate to be reassured that the opinions which I already held were good and correct. I came to grow and learn and be challenged by viewpoints that I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to be exposed to. As mentioned previously, Colgate students come from overwhelmingly liberal and urban areas, and due to the occupations that many of us will take up after graduation, a lot of us are likely to return to those same areas. The ideas found on the campuses of elite institutions are not representative of the beliefs of a vast majority of the country. A slim minority of professors hold divergent viewpoints from much of the student body, and by completely closing the door to being exposed to those ideas with which you disagree, you are robbing yourself of an opportunity for growth and development. 

Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not arguing that you should take classes with these professors so that they can change your mind and convince you of more conservative ideas. While some people may find that exposure to other worldviews brings ideas they actually do find agreeable, facing beliefs that you passionately disagree with can help to strengthen your own positions and can teach you how to debate ideas that you find reprehensible. 

Sheltering ourselves from these ideas doesn’t make them go away, and it certainly will not change the minds of everyone who believes them. As a community of bright individual thinkers, avoiding professors who present opportunities to encounter diverse perspectives will only hinder the full potential of the educational opportunity we find ourselves given here at Colgate.