The echo chamber at Colby

The previous edition of the Echo reported that the Class of 2020 is going to be the most diverse group of students in the College’s history. This is indeed an impressive achievement; however, the Administration doesn’t want to stop there. President Greene has also pushed for the diversification of incoming professors. Creating a diverse campus with regards to economic, social, and racial standing is a noble pursuit that is important for the liberal arts experience; however, there is one aspect of diversity that the Colby, and many other colleges, miss out on. I speak of diversity of thought.

It is no secret that Colby has leftist leanings. In 2015, the Echo interviewed Chris Shorey, President of Colby Republicans, who expressed that there is immense difficulty in engaging in an open dialogue with our mostly liberal campus. Even during this election year, conservative groups here have remained suspiciously silent, all the while the Spa gives out free bagels to the four billion Bernie supporters on campus. I have seen more Bernie stickers, pins, and shirts than I can count, while only meeting one lonely Kasich supporter. The only presence that frontrunner Trump has here are the parody hats worn by drunken party goers that say something ridiculous like “Make America Lit Again.” The bottom line is that there is a serious lack of vocal conservative students on campus. Why is there such a dearth of new ideas and debate at a college that prides itself on being “built on respect, active inquiry, and the free and open exchange of ideas”?

Generally, the ideas that make up clubs and groups on campus are pretty homogenous and are rarely even given a second look by outsiders. I recently attended an event hosted by Colby’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The event was titled “Grill a Pastor” and I was rather disappointed by the sheer lack of atheists and non-Christians in attendance, people for whom the event had surely been put together for. The Christians that were there asked a few tough questions, but the heated discussion that I expected simply did not occur. Rather than a grill, it was more comparable to a light sautéing with people nodding their heads at most things in pensive agreement.

This problem is certainly not limited to the Colby community. To take it to the most extreme example, in a 2014 ABC interview a Vassar Republican stated that out of 2,500 students, it was impossible to garner the 25 signatures necessary to make a Republican club. As a result, Vassar College has only one right of center student club group, the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union (VCLU), a fact that embodies the lack of discussion and debate on today’s college campuses.

This problem extends well beyond the realm of political thought. I recently paid a visit to a friend at Brown University who expressed a similar observation in terms of class discussions. While talking about homelessness in his Anthropology class everyone expressed the same viewpoint on the matter. The lack of disagreement created something that he described as a “hollow echo chamber effect.”

Even President Obama has commented on the lack of diverse and controversial discussions on college campuses. Last year in a speech on education in Des Moines, Obama stated, “I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative, or they don’t want to read a book if it had language that is offensive to African Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women… I don’t agree with that either—that you when you [sic] become students at colleges, you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.”

Now I want to reiterate that I in no way wish to undermine the importance of diversity in terms of what the institution defined it as. Racial and socioeconomic diversity are indeed important. However, our College does a great disservice to us by failing to promote diversity of thought. The resultant effect becomes this ‘echo chamber’ in which bad ideas and false perceptions are allowed to blossom without proper debate and scrutiny. Progress can only happen if we abandon the “echo chamber” and reaffirm the importance of discussion and debate not only in promoting good ideas, but also in promoting the personal growth that comes with the challenging of convictions.

Leave a Reply