My family is conservative. My views have diverged from theirs over the years, for better or worse. Since I was tossed into the mix of different opinions, backgrounds, and stories that make up Boston College nearly two semesters ago, I’ve been able to clarify my political and social views even further. I think that such views are worth double-checking, even—or perhaps especially—for those who feel most secure in them.
For one thing, it’s all too easy to put yourself in a box that you don’t fully understand. For example, I might label myself progressive because I believe in an intersectional approach to achieving gender equality and increased taxation of the wealthy. This is my political identity; however, modern-day Progressives constitute a political category distinct from Democrats, with a unique political agenda and attitude—one much more complicated than simply having “progressive” beliefs.
Despite the hazards of such categorizations, we continue to put people in boxes. In some way, this is understandable; we are wired to maximize efficiency. However, sharing your opinion without sufficient understanding of the issue can lead to generalizations. This can be dangerous, especially on a college campus.
I’m going to suggest something that may seem easy or even “textbook” at first. However, when considered against the backdrop of BC’s politically passive culture, I think it could make for a good challenge. Before making assumptions about somebody’s views or doubling down on your stance, take some time to step back and reflect, both on your own core values and upon the information you are receiving. As college students, it is essential to develop a capacity for vulnerability; only when we let go of our preconceived opinions can we achieve active discernment.
This reflection should be informed by research. One of the hardest part of this process is not turning on the same news channel or picking up the same edition of a paper each morning. It can be so easy in our era, as tensions flare in every direction, to turn to whichever outlet appeals to our already established beliefs. While it is always worthwhile to hear the arguments of people and organizations that matter to your individual core values, it is alright—and necessary—to expose yourself to opinions opposite your own.
For college to function as it’s supposed to, we must think critically and knock down the barriers which trap us into routine. Professor Treseanne Ainsworth, who has spent more than twenty years as first a student and then a professor in the English Department, commented on BC’s consistent emphasis on social justice. She suggests that “men and women for others” be the label by which we all define ourselves by.
“It makes the other labels not as relevant if we can really examine ourselves and ask, ‘what does it mean to be men and women for others?’” Ainsworth said.
Only after a period of deliberate thought and investigation can we have productive dialogues surrounding the change we’d like to see, both on and beyond campus. In the meantime, we are contributing to our own growth as learners, as people, and as citizens in the context of our Jesuit education.