I’ve often wondered what would happen if I raised my hand and asked my professor who he voted for. Would the room would fall silent? Would all eyes fall on me? Would I even get an answer?
There is a general tension within VU classrooms when politics is in question. In my experience, students become quiet or change the subject altogether when topics like border patrol or gun violence arise. I see this as a problem in the classroom. People don’t want to talk about politics, because they don’t want to rock the boat, but what they don’t realize is that not talking about it is doing more harm than good.
This campus culture of not openly talking about politics in the classroom, leads students to believe that doing so is somehow wrong. This is a campuswide issue that prevents students from hearing their peers’ and professors’ opinions on political issues.
VU often hosts different events to discuss relevant political issues. If we can discuss politics as a university, then there should be no problem discussing politics in the classroom. Vanguard classrooms should be an open space for students and professors alike to share their political views.
By supporting talk of politics in the classroom, professors could expose students to opposing opinions and allow them to have a mature debate in a controlled environment.
As young adults, students need to be involved in debates to help them learn how to have a healthy argument. Not everyone at VU is a Christian, and yet religious conversation happens constantly. Similarly, not everyone has the same political beliefs and because of that, the conversation is avoided. A college classroom today is the time and the place for these conversations to take place, and what better person to regulate an argument than a professor?
Professors hold a unique perspective different from students. Professors are the older generation on campus and generally have more experience pertaining to politics. Providing their input into a student conversation on political topics might provide new information that a student would not have otherwise heard.
Students and professors are free to talk about politics outside of the classroom, and they do. Yet, the people students talk to are usually friends, who either have the same views or don’t share them in order to save face. Politics is not often referenced in the classroom because our country is the most divided it has ever been, and both students and teachers seem to want to avoid the topic than contribute to the problem.
Talking about politics often would break that illusion. In fact, rather than divide students and faculty based on their views, I believe it will do the opposite. Instead of stifling conversation, the topic of politics could generate more conversation between students who otherwise may not have talked to another. Simultaneously creating connection, instead of breaking them.
We are living in a very divided country, centered on whether you are democrat or republican. If professors encourage students to talk about their political views, they can break down that wall that separates people based on what party they support or what side they take. It can also teach students to have a calm, level-headed argument with peers and professors.
This conversation between professor and students will help create an open relationship between the two, one that many students seek out.
As a university with a small student to faculty ratio, VU professors are given a rare opportunity to develop close relationships with their students. This provides professors the ability to create an open environment where even tough topics can be talked about, especially politics. Which leads me to ask, if the topic of politics is being avoided in the classroom, what else could be?
As important as it is for politics to be discussed within the classroom, it is only appropriate to be discussed when it has the potential to add to the discussion and generate conversation. Meaning, it would be appropriate to discuss politics in a journalism class or a political science class because it pertains to the course.
It would not be appropriate to talk about politics in classes where it does not relate to the subject matter.
In some cases, politics could be discussed in religion courses or even chapel because political issues are often biblical issues. In fact, Assistant Professor of History and Political Science, Kevin Walker, believes it is a Christian responsibility to redeem politics from the toxic atmosphere it has become. We can’t redeem politics if we don’t talk about it.
With that being said, having political conversations in the classroom, when it is relevant, benefits both student and teacher. When a student shares their opinion on politics and current events, it opens them up to be questioned. “Why do you think that? Where did you hear that? Are your sources credible?” Professors should influence students to have an opinion on politics, but to make sure it is well-constructed and backed up. This teaches students to produce strong arguments in all topics, not just politics.
On the other side, if a professor chose to also share their political opinion, it may reveal some biases in his or her teaching. However, this is not a bad thing. It would contribute to the idea of an open environment between teacher and student. If a student is aware of a professor’s political views or side, then they can be careful to not accept biased information.
This does not give students a free pass to disrespect a professor because of their beliefs. Having an open environment in the classroom does not give students the ability to say whatever they want. There is a level of respect that needs to be present at all times, even more so during tough topics.
If a professor chose to share their political views, it could also separate students into those who support the professor’s views and those who do not. This creates an opportunity for favoritism between students. However, this shouldn’t be a problem if professors are careful to reveal their political views and to use discretion when needed.
What’s important is not the professor’s answer to my question, if everyone looks at me, or if the room falls completely silent. The important thing, is that I feel comfortable enough to ask.