Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

The poison of polarization: extreme political leaning undermines education

Rachel Choi
Illustration by Rachel Choi.

Disagreement is inevitable—especially at college.

Discourse on politics, religion, sociology, and other issues inform opposing opinions. The state of American politics currently seems to sit at two opposite ends, creating an “us vs. them” mentality that results in a lack of constructive dialogue. But when this sort of black-and-white mindset goes to school, it prevents impressionable minds from thinking critically. 

In a one-sided college environment, students don’t actually listen to one another. Rather, every class discussion and debate becomes a case of who can make their opinion the loudest—it becomes a toxic echo chamber. 

Our nation is divided—with each respective political party distrusting and hateful of the other—but that doesn’t mean all universities, especially Emerson College, have to be.

It’s no secret that Emerson is an extremely liberal, left-leaning institution, which isn’t a bad thing. But the negative aspects of this extreme leaning come into play when the student body is so caught up in their own views that they cannot engage in any sort of productive discourse surrounding topics that are divisive.

In a documentary titled “The Social Dilemma,” American businessman Roger McNamee says,“if everyone’s entitled to their own facts, there’s really no need to compromise, no need for people to come together. In fact, there’s really no need for people to interact.” This observation stems from the growing divide between opposing political viewpoints further reinforced by the presence of social media and how it has changed the way people interact with information.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of U.S. adults aged 18-29 get their news from TikTok, 42 percent from Instagram, and 36 percent from X (formerly Twitter). Given these demographics, it is safe to say that a good chunk of college-aged adults are primarily receiving newsworthy information from social media platforms. 

However, social media uses algorithms to tailor specific content to users, oversaturating the user’s feed with information that confirms particular biases. With the prevalence of misinformation present in the media, social media users must be careful about the information they choose to engage with. 

Researchers from the University of Cambridge created a misinformation susceptibility test (MIST) and found that younger audiences, primarily Gen Z and Millennials, were more susceptible to believing fake headlines. 

People are choosing to learn from their phones rather than their peers.

The majority of Emerson’s student body fits in these age demographics and leans toward the political left. Furthermore, Emerson is a predominantly white institution and about 64 percent of the student body comes from families within the top 20 percent of income demographics. 

Most of the time, classroom discussions refuse to engage with opposing viewpoints. Everyone feels entitled to basically the same opinion, having been raised in similar cultural environments and grown up with a similar amount of financial and racial privilege.

Many instances of an individual student or student organization expressing an opposing view have been met with intolerance on campus.

On Oct. 30, President Jay Bernhardt sent out an email to the Emerson student body with the subject line “Addressing Acts of Intolerance” that discussed the heightened tensions on campus in the face of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Regardless of anyone’s beliefs on the situation, humanity and freedom must be prioritized. However, it is clear that the student body’s views on the conflict have created a very polarized environment in which students are struggling to act and speak with compassion toward one another—especially toward those who feel much more personally connected to the issue.

The constant state of disagreement on this humanitarian crisis and many others has prevented the student body from coming together in their activism and actually fighting for a cause. Students just passively post statistics on their Instagram stories rather than actively committing to fight for change. 

Emerson prides itself on a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but that commitment doesn’t always seem to extend to classroom discussions and day-to-day conversations.

If we fail to embrace and learn from the diverse range of experiences that each individual brings to the table, the very essence and purpose of education become hollow. Schooling should be a vibrant exchange, where the richness of various perspectives and life journeys forms the cornerstone of our learning.

Admittedly, it can be difficult to fully understand someone else’s perspective. However, the most important aspect of maintaining diverse relationships is mutual respect and a willingness to compromise. I once enrolled in a sociology course in which the professor had made a comment about the necessity of agreeing to disagree. The purpose of this comment was not to justify hateful rhetoric by a certain political party but to emphasize the exchange of ideas. By insulating ourselves within homogenous viewpoints, we perpetuate the same intolerance as our political opposition.

When polarization reaches destructive levels, its consequences permeate every aspect of society, fostering an environment of deep-seated division and hostility. The most common societal outcome of destructive political polarization is the decline of democracy. Destructive polarization hampers governance and policy making—leading to gridlock, inefficiency, and the inability to address pressing societal issues. It erodes trust in institutions, fuels resentment between groups, and breeds animosity, often resulting in increased social unrest or even violence.

The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is clear cut evidence of the divisive and dangerous nature of polarized politics. Escalating political violence from either the far left or far right is bound to have disastrous effects—historical examples include the American Civil War and the rise of Hitler and World War II. If we are unable to compromise, the entire basis of our democracy is undermined. 

At the university level, extreme polarization creates an exclusive higher education system—preventing all voices from having a seat at the table. We must welcome disagreement and learn from opposing views rather than react without listening. 

If there is any hope for depolarizing U.S. politics on a societal level, it must begin with students and higher education. 

In the realm of higher education, promoting inclusivity is a multifaceted challenge that involves navigating polarized viewpoints. Professors are faced with the daunting task of creating environments that nurture diverse perspectives while also addressing sensitive or controversial topics without fostering hostility or instigating bias. Classrooms should be spaces where students of diverse backgrounds with differing perspectives are able to come together and learn from one another.

Amidst this challenge lies an opportunity for renewal and recommitment to the core values of academia: fostering inclusive environments that embrace diverse perspectives, encouraging respectful debate, and promoting intellectual curiosity. By actively fostering an atmosphere of constructive dialogue and understanding, universities can reclaim their role as pillars of intellectual exploration, enabling students to engage with differing viewpoints, develop critical thinking skills, and prepare for a world that demands collaboration and empathy.

It’s imperative for academic institutions and its students to champion an unwavering commitment to intellectual diversity, laying the groundwork for a more enlightened, empathetic, and progress-oriented society.

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About the Contributor
Hailey Akau, Assistant Multimedia Editor and Magazine Section Editor
Hailey Akau (she/her) is a writing, literature, and publishing major from Honolulu, Hawaii. She focuses mainly on illustrations and graphics for The Beacon but also contributes the occasional opinion as she sees fit. She also enjoys writing personal essays or prose and considers herself an em dash enthusiast.

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