Why isn’t the university really a place of openness and diversity?

As my time spent in academia has increased, I have become well aware that the university is a place that prizes itself on open discussions, diversity, and allowing each individual to express him or herself. Well, unless you go against the majority. At some universities, such as the one I attend (Baylor), the majority are fairly conservative Christians. Although you can be a liberal Democrat or nonbeliever or something outside of the range of “normative” here, it is not desired that you publicly discuss those opinions or beliefs.

But the same thing happens to the university as a whole, which is surprising to me. Anyone in higher education realizes that the higher you go (graduate student, Ph.D. candidate, faculty member), the more liberal the climate gets. And most liberals, especially those in academia, highly value openness and discussion. But again, that only goes as long as you don’t express beliefs that are unpopular. Recently, Jonathan Haidt, a political and social psychologist at the University of Virginia, gave a talk in which he highlighted the hostility held toward political conservatives in the field of social psychology. Haidt recently blogged on the topic, reminding us that there are real people suffering from this type of discrimination.

In some ways, I cannot speak to this topic because I am in a more conservative climate, but it did occur to me that at national conferences, this is often the vibe. For instance at a recent conference I attended in Washington, D.C., on several occasions, individuals made comments such as, “Yeah – as if anyone here is a conservative” in reference to my data that supported a more liberal leaning in political opinions about universal health care. These comments were made in passing as if to say, “Conservatives aren’t very bright people, and we are all clearly educated individuals.”

I began to wonder if the assumption lies in the data correlating IQ with liberal leanings politcally, but in some ways we may be confusing correlation with causation. Being smart does not MAKE you liberal or vice versa. Rather, academia has created a liberal climate which often attracts intelligent individuals.

In some ways, I think this is a perfect example of social psychology. Wherever there is a majority, no matter how moral or focused on equality, we will always oppress or discriminate against the minority. Isn’t it funny how we, as humans, are so influenced by our own social situations that we conform to them, even when that means going against our own morals? The question, now, is whether we will embrace the reality that conservatives may feel discriminated against and move forward. Or will we continue to be victims of majority group influence? Interesting questions to ponder and good for me to remember the minority.



About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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