By Demara Barnes, Stephen Neukam and Tatyanna Carman
Politically conservative students at Rider University reported that they are the least likely to share political opinions in the classroom because of contrasting beliefs with professors and peers, according to a journalism class survey.
The March survey, with 345 respondents, found that 41 percent of students who identified themselves as conservative felt intimidated to share ideas because their political beliefs differed from their professors. The number rose to 59 percent when the perceived conflict was with fellow students.
However, these numbers indicate conservative Rider students are less intimidated than their peers nationwide. According to a 2018 poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates on behalf of Yale’s conservative William F. Buckley Program, 61 percent of conservative students nationwide said they were intimidated to share beliefs contrary to their professors.
Junior accounting major and President of Rider’s Chapter of Turning Point USA Joshua Aminov said he believes that some students at Rider feel hesitant to participate in political discussion.
“There are so many students who really feel passionate about their beliefs, even if they’re not conservative, but they are afraid of sounding like they are against the norm,” said Aminov, adding that he believes the “norm” on American college campuses is a liberal perspective.
Other students reported different reasons for not sharing their perspectives. According to Rider’s survey results, 18 percent of liberal students and 37 percent of moderates said they felt intimidated in sharing their ideas, opinions or beliefs in the classroom. Nationwide, 53 percent of liberal and moderate students reported the same feeling.
Sara Flores, a sophomore global supply chain and business analytics major, explained why she felt intimidated and wants to avoid the conflict that may arise from her opinions.
“As a female I noticed a lot of backlash is given to women of color…by the white young males on campus and some white male professors. I have my own opinion, however, sometimes I decide to stay quiet to avoid conflict,” said Flores.
Senior communications studies major Jenna DeLuca, a self-described moderate, explained that many of the views that she hears are from extremes, both very liberal or conservative.
“I definitely feel like it’s hard to express your opinion with certain things, [but] not everything. You know, things such as gay marriage or your own sexual orientation or things of that nature that are a little bit more personal,” DeLuca said. “It is hard to express those things to a professor because their opinion might be very different from yours.”
Aminov suggested that some students may fear lower grades if they disagree politically with their professor.
“I know students who are very afraid of that in the political science department,” he said. “They lie about their views on every paper. They have to make pretend they are liberals [when] writing these papers.”
Assistant Professor of Political Science Olivia Newman conceded that it is possible for professors to unfairly evaluate students based on political beliefs. However, she emphasized that it is highly speculative to accuse a professor of such a thing.
“The challenge is that it is very difficult to disentangle academic performance and ideology in such a way that we can verify that poor grades are a result of ideological discrimination,” Newman said. “Student work and professor grading are both highly variable, subjective practices that elude precise quantification.”
The solution to the reported anxiety of conservative students on campuses is a major policy platform for the Republican party. In March, surrounded by conservative activists, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect free speech on college campuses, and tied it to access to federal funding.
“[I will] take historic action to defend American students and American values [that have been] under siege,” Trump said at the signing ceremony, attended by Aminov.
Newman connected the issue of intimidation regarding sharing personal beliefs on campus to today’s national political climate.
“Political polarization in the U.S. and on campuses is so extreme right now that almost everyone feels as if they are under attack,” Newman said. “I would hope for more conversations on campus that highlight what we have in common, rather than solidifying political enmity.”
Student journalists Danielle Marcus, Sierra McCoy, Jason Mount and Steven Richtmyer contributed to this report.