Professor of Sociology Peter Blum wore black the day after the November election, mourning the results. Now his lapel sometimes sports a safety pin, an expression of solidarity with those who may feel unsafe in Trump’s America. Nevertheless, Blum said he doesn’t align himself with any political party.
“Why should I?” he asked. “I’m not happy with any of the options in terms of me joining and saying I’m a member. There have been times I have felt more kinship with libertarians. There are times when I felt more kinship with Republicans. Recently, I’ve felt more kinship with Democrats.”
Universities across the country have created bias-response systems in which students report professors expressing prejudice in relation to race, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. Although Hillsdale doesn’t have a bias-response system, Blum said he hasn’t felt pressure to self-censor on the largely conservative Hillsdale College campus anyway. He self-censors on his own to best teach students, he said.
“I do think Hillsdale does pretty well, as far as I’ve seen, at actually living up to its claim to have open discussion,” Blum said. “I’m able to tell some of my friends that teach at other places — that would be considered here to be very liberal places — that I think it really is the case that it is possible to express somewhat liberal-leaning opinions here. I know of places where I probably would not feel nearly as free to express my opinions about some things.”
Blum said he occasionally watches what he says in class, however, adding that he thinks it’s better for students not to know his political views.
“It can be distracting,” he said. “There are times when I talk about political issues in a way that I hold back from saying what I think, not so much because I’m afraid of doing so but because I think it’s better for teaching.”
Professor of English John Somerville, a registered Republican, said he also tries not to influence his students. To truly study literature, he said, students must be open to new ideas.
“I want them to engage the literature intelligently, and I want to represent the views of those writers as fairly as I can — that’s it,” Somerville said. “I’m not here to make them into little conservatives.”
Somerville said students need exposure to different perspectives.
“I think a lot of students are in a bubble, absolutely,” he said. “I’ve known students who come here with all their conservative credentials in order and never really were challenged to the point where they needed to know how to defend their views. Then they left Hillsdale and found people of a different disposition who were really smart, and they could not defend what they thought was true.”
Evaluating opposing ideas is an integral part of education, he said.
“One of the opportunities in a classroom is to at least engage with other ideas and examine your own views,” he said. “I think an education that takes us outside the bubble is the healthiest possible education.”
Some of that exposure to different ideas happens outside the classroom, and it’s here students may find trouble.
“I know there are students who censor themselves because they feel they hold unacceptable views on campus and would get negative reaction,” Blum said.
Hillsdale College Democrats Vice President senior Christine Scanlan said she sometimes doesn’t express her views.
“I don’t think anyone should have to censor themselves in front of other students,” Scanlan said. “But in some situations, I hold my tongue on some things, because some battles aren’t worth fighting.”
Scanlan said she started college as a conservative Christian but began to change her mind sophomore year. She would like to have more diverse speakers on campus, she said.
“Hillsdale College students are typically bathed in their own opinions,” Scanlan said. “Their beliefs are reinforced on a daily basis, and that can be very detrimental on either side. There is the exact same thing on liberal campuses.”
Being exposed to only liberal beliefs encouraged Blum to explore other ideas, he said.
“Part of what pushed me in a direction of conservatism was running into enclaves where it was clear that what would be perceived as more progressive or left-leaning thought was imposed and taught as true,” he said.
Giving students chances to interact with various perspectives is important to education, Blum said.
“I want to participate in open dialogue as much as possible, because I always know I could be wrong,” Blum said. “Even when I believe something passionately, I still know I could be wrong.”