I grew up in a home where we received both the Weekly Standard and The Nation. It was never a safe assumption, even within my immediate family, that one could state their political opinions at the dinner table and have everyone agree. As a result, I learned two valuable lessons: to love people regardless of their political views and to try not to make assumptions about the politics of others. It was quite a shock to come to Williams and find that many people assumed that I had a certain political view.
I believe that having a particular political view, in and of itself, is not good or bad. A political opinion is just that – an opinion, the strength and quality of which will vary. However, assuming that others share your political opinions or possess particular political opinions can be quite traumatizing and alienating to those subjected to the assumptions. There is psychological research indicating the likelihood that certain genetic aspects of personality play a role in the formation of political opinions. Growing up in certain regions of the country, too, seems to affect one’s political opinions. If we accept the notion that political views are partly genetic and partly cultural, then the Williams community should respect and cherish those of all political orientations in the same way that the Williams community pledges respect for all, without regard to race, religion or culture. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
There is very little political diversity on this campus. As a result, though there was a lot of political activity on campus surrounding the election, it was not geared toward discussing the candidates but rather toward celebrating one candidate in particular. At the first presidential debate, which hundreds of students watched in Paresky, people often would cheer and clap after Obama spoke. At the Election Day party in Goodrich, there was a similar rally-like feeling, with people cheering when Obama won a state and booing when McCain won a state.
Non-Obama supporters had the choice not to attend these campus-wide events. However, there are other areas of campus life in which political insensitivity reigns that the political minority cannot and should not have to avoid.
Take the classroom. Political criticisms relating to economic or public policy designed to promote class discussion are quite beneficial in an educational environment. I fail to see the benefit, however, of a professor taking a cheap shot at a particular candidate (none are perfect) with a wink and a nod for the entertainment of those who agree with their political views. A professor should not assume that his or her students agree with them politically, especially in a large lecture class.
Another good example of the Williams community being not as sensitive as they could be can be found in student clubs. At one prominent club on campus last week, the meeting was opened with the question “What was your favorite thing about Obama winning?” This would put someone unhappy about Obama’s victory in a rather difficult position among friends and colleagues.
Finally, a similar situation can happen on sports teams. I have felt uncomfortable on more than one occasion because I have faced the choice of either listening to others state their views on the assumption that everyone within hearing agreed or expressing that I disagree, resulting in a political discussion pitting me against a vanload of my teammates whom I love. The situation can be tough at Williams, but it can also be tough in “the real world” here in the Northeast. A friend of mine told me how many of his mother’s liberal friends have no idea that she is a Republican. She just doesn’t want to have that conversation.
For those of you reading this who happen to be in the majority, you may not have had the experience of living for an extended period of time with a wonderful group of people with drastically different political views than yourself. Most of the time, things are amazing. It can be awkward, at times, however, and frustrating when the people around you assume that you share their views, insist on labeling you because you don’t hold their views, or disregard your views entirely.
This school promotes diversity in ethnicity, race and national origin in the name enhancing the college experience for all. I would argue that embracing those of all different political views would bring similar benefits, including more intellectual political discussion, allowing students of all viewpoints to challenge, enhance and develop their own views. Each of us carries a unique set of values, and all of us agree on the value of a Williams education. Let’s educate each other.
Fiona Worcester ’09 is an art and psychology major from Anchorage, Alaska.