Liberal nature of campus may come with higher ed territory

By Jackie Glosniak

April 2, 2014

Dominican may be a Catholic institution, but the majority of faculty and students remain far from shy when it comes to addressing some of the most pressing and controversial social matters of the day.

In recent years, Dominican has been on the map for advocating for students who are not legal citizens, leading discussions regarding dissembling systems of patriarchy and gender oppression and calling out the ills of the American government system.

Dominican positions itself as a university inclusive of all of its students, but not all students feel their voices and experiences are valued on campus.

Junior Molly Dettmann is active on campus, working as a resident assistant and on the executive board of the Stars for Life pro-life campus organization. However, she believes professors and students have a liberal slant that limits the voices of some.

“Before getting so involved with campus, I definitely did not want to say anything in class,” she said. “[When I] talked to other students about the issues, they felt the same way as me. I knew there were more conservative students out there but no one was saying anything.”

It wasn’t until Dettmann and a few of her friends started Stars for Life that she truly felt she had a safe outlet to speak her mind against abortion.

“Even now, there are still many days when I hold my tongue and don’t say anything because it’s not worth it,” she said. “Even though I’ve listened to the other side of the discussion, I don’t think that I would be one hundred percent able to express my beliefs without people getting very upset and argumentative.”

Sophomore Chance Emlund agrees. He says that since his freshman year he has experienced heavy liberal biases.

“I feel like a lot of the students are going to sit there and just kind of regurgitate what all of their teachers have been telling them,” Emlund said. “It’s kind of like a brainwashing program where they go and listen to their teachers and say ‘Oh, this teacher was right about this,’ when in all reality its just they’re taking the one side of the argument and not really attesting to the other side.”

Dettmann says it is easier to be a liberal on campus than a conservative, even in the seminar and businesses classes she has taken.

“When the [2012 presidential] election was going on, my seminar had a huge discussion but it was all liberal sided,” she recalled. “The professor said how much he couldn’t stand Romney and said bad things about him, and it wasn’t fact based, it was opinion based. I thought that was fine the professor had that view, but she didn’t open up the floor for all views to be acknowledged. As a conservative, I honestly felt afraid and uncomfortable, like I couldn’t say anything.”

Emlund also has experienced instances of feeling outnumbered by liberal peers.

“I feel that it’s really hard being someone who leans right in the classroom. A lot of people sit there and think that anything you say is just total crap and it’s really frustrating, extremely frustrating,” he explained.

Emlund also said he has had professors who have outwardly criticized his opinions and the idea of being conservative.

“I just had a teacher who tried to say that he wanted to change our opinions and basically I felt offended because he’s sitting there saying my opinion doesn’t really matter, at least that’s how I took it,” he said. “From my professors, I’ve been called a cynic [and] labeled as someone putting out opinions that shouldn’t be listened to. I’ve also been told that basically everything I’ve ever been told was a lie.”

Senior Megan Graves is active with the theology and women and gender studies departments and hopes students never feel any bias.

“As a Sinsinawa inspired institution, [our] heart and foundation is to build relationships with people no matter what perspective they come from,” Graves said. “I would say the point of this institution is to build relationships and respect diverse ideologies.”

Graves says she also has not personally seen any liberal biases in her courses and credits it to having professors who have created safe spaces.

“People are able to voice their opinion, but I would hope that my class experience of having a safe space to voice my opinion and my ideology would be applicable to all classrooms,” she said.

Junior Aracelis Sanchez says that since Dominican has a mission statement advocating a just and humane world, teaching may naturally come with a liberal bias.

“When I think of being liberal, I think of more progressive attitudes,” Sanchez explained. “I think of having rights for everybody and sometimes, that has been conflicting with conservative values and ideas, like same sex marriage and abortion. I think that when you deal with social justice, there’s kind of that progressive, ‘Let’s break the paradigms [and] the structures’ mentality.”

Sanchez says that liberal faculty members are not necessarily marginalizing students but challenging them to think differently.

“It’s kind of hard for me because I have a liberal view of things, but I think that when these professors teach certain things in class, especially if you’re in a sociology class, you challenge everything,” she said. “I could see how some students might see that as an attack on their religious beliefs or an attack on just their values, but I don’t think it’s intentional.”

For those who feel excluded by liberal biases, Graves suggests students and faculty come together for civil multi-sided discussions on campus.

“I think it would be successful because I would hope that students would understand the meaning of being a lifelong learner and learning from both sides,” she said.

Dettmann thinks before such a talk can happen, faculty need to work first to stop keeping diversity discussions one-sided.

“I love that Dominican is so passionate about diversity, but it’s so hypocritical because it’s only one view of diversity.”

Emlund worries that such a discussion would just end up favoring liberals.

“There would be a very large surplus of lefts and a very scarce few rights, maybe a couple in the middle. I feel like it’d just be an ambush, like an outnumbered thing, so I don’t see something like that being very successful at Dominican,” he said.

Dettmann also hopes that Dominican aligns itself closer with more conservative Catholic values. She recalls one mass when intentions were made for aborted babies and people were angry.

“Dominican should respect what the Catholic Church teaches and realize you can’t say you’re a Catholic institution then do whatever you want,” she said.

Sanchez says Dominican can’t forget to have academic freedom.

“There’s this idea of academic freedom that’s protected under the right to education, not just from a Catholic social teaching view or Catholic tenets,” she concluded.