Iowa City, on paper, is a hotbed of liberalism. Due largely to the University of Iowa’s presence, Johnson County hasn’t voted primarily Republican in a presidential election since 1960. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won 65.3 percent of the county’s votes, whereas Republican candidate Donald Trump received a mere 27.4 percent. An additional 7.4 percent of voters opted for third-party candidates.
In today’s polarizing political climate, in which insults are frequently hurled and debate is too often ignored, it’s all but impossible to have genuine discourse on the issues affecting American society. Case in point: On Sept. 22, Sen. Joni Ernst visited Iowa City as part of her yearly tour of Iowa’s 99 counties. As Jason Noble of the Des Moines Register wrote, “The 750-strong crowd peppered Ernst with questions throughout the hourlong forum and frequently punctuated her answers with boos, shouts, and jeers. At least two attendees were escorted out by police before it ended, and a dozen or so more walked out on their own accord, chanting, ‘We’ve heard enough.’ ”
On a campus that seems steadfast in ensuring every member of the Hawkeye community feels welcome, why was Ernst treated with such disrespect in the IMU? How tolerant is the university when it comes to political perspectives?
According to a 25-year survey compiled by the Higher Education Research Institute, from 1989 to 2014, the number of self-described conservative faculty decreased from around 20 percent to approximately 12 percent, whereas self-described liberal faculty grew from 40 percent to 60 percent. Furthermore, according to Georgetown University Professor Jacques Berlinerblau in a June Washington Post article, “a mind-boggling 3 percent of sociologists and 2 percent of literature professors identify as Republicans. When conservatives charge that they’re outnumbered by campus liberals, they are unequivocally correct.”
UI President Bruce Harreld told me an anecdote about a friend of his in charge of a school in the University of California system, in which said friend was on a political-commentary show. As Harreld pointed out, “The commentator said our country’s really divided right now, and I think everyone expected [my friend] to say ‘Republicans versus Democrats,’ but he said, ‘No, it’s my opinion versus everyone else’s.’ ” He stressed that there are too many incidents in which people with differing viewpoints don’t engage in dialogue and don’t try to understand alternative opinions. Harreld expressed hope that students weren’t being conditioned into believing certain political ideas by their teachers.
I am not the type of student to shy away from my opinions. Whenever a political situation arises, and my input is asked, I tell people the truth about myself, whether they agree with me or not, and I expect others to do the same. I believe that the only way to bridge any sort of gap between opposing ideologies is through debate and open conversation. Riots and threats solve nothing and only breed more animosity. As Harreld said, “It’s about coming together and learning from one another, even if we don’t agree at the end of the day.”
So, am I welcome here? Are all people with differing political views welcome at the UI? I asked 35 random students if they valued diversity of opinions. All but one said yes, that no political belief was superior to another. Coupled with Harreld’s words of wisdom, as well as my experiences with both conservatives and liberals I’ve met, I believe more can be done, but the conversation has only been started. The protests and riots at Berkeley and Evergreen cannot be repeated here. As a community, we must strive to remember that we all deserve the right to express our beliefs.
Submitted to the DI as part of a writing commons