Tolerance, Openness, and “Safety Zones”
Nicholas Kristof’s column in this morning’s NYTimes, “The Dangers of Echo Chambers on Campuses“, offers some good general advice for college campuses when he writes: “…the last thing we need on campuses is reciprocal illiberalism, this time led by liberals.” Early in the article he makes this point about colleges that generally rings true, particularly on liberal arts campuses:
We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.
I fear that liberal outrage at Trump’s presidency will exacerbate the problem of liberal echo chambers, by creating a more hostile environment for conservatives and evangelicals. Already, the lack of ideological diversity on campuses is a disservice to the students and to liberalism itself, with liberalism collapsing on some campuses into self-parody.
One of the examples of “liberalism collapsing into self-parody” is the creation of “safety zones” where students can seek refuge from those who do not share their same views. While colleges should never tolerate bullying or “isms” of any kind, isolating students from those whose “isms” emerge from their religious or philosophical beliefs undercuts any hopes we have of hegemony in the future.
One of the great challenges we face as a nation and as a global village is how to be inclusive of people who don’t want to be included. Those who are fundamentalists in any kind of religion are taught to exclude and be suspicious of people who “don’t think like us” and can thus only find a safe haven among “believers” who “think like us”. The whole purpose of education is to open minds… and minds can open only in a climate of tolerance for others and an openness to their ideas. Tolerance and openness are the best antidote to fundamentalism and the suspicion that accompanies it. “Safety zones” that protect students from those who think differently reciprocates illiberalism… and that will eventually lead to conflict on a small and large scale.
In my judgment, we spend far too much time in demographically homogeneous schools preparing students for high stakes tests and far too little time on learning how to navigate the complicated and diverse culture that results from a global economy and the silos we live in. To function in an ideologically and culturally diverse world, students should be attending ideologically and culturally diverse schools.