Colleges should make political views known for sake of students

Today’s young adults deserve to know if their universities’ principles align with their values

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KESTRA ENGSTROM

Today’s youth are one of the most politically active groups of young people in generations. We deserve to know if our colleges are in support of us.

KESTRA ENGSTROM, Evergreen Opinion Editor

Historically, young people have been a demographic disengaged from mainstream politics. 

This isn’t because youth aren’t affected by politics — in fact, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 with the 26th Amendment in 1971 to acknowledge the hypocrisy of the U.S. States government drafting 18-year-olds to fight in the military but depriving them of the right to vote. 

Today there is a similar push to lower the voting age to 16 years, ensuring teenagers who are driving on publicly funded roads, paying taxes, attending public school and even potentially being tried as adults in court have their voices heard in the government.

This age group is also going to be seeing the most devastating effects of climate change in the coming years, whilst shouldering over $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.

Young adults are not exempt from the effects of politics — nor are they uninterested.

In the 2020 presidential election, youth (ages 18-29) voter turnout saw an 11% increase from the previous election, with about half of all young Americans voting. In Washington state alone, an estimated 58 percent of 18–29-year-olds who were eligible to vote turned out.

Youth leadership is on the rise as well. Strong youth voices like Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg and David Hogg are taking the lead on important issues affecting our generation, while many other young adults are getting involved in social media activism, protests and political organization on a scale we have never seen before.

In a world with such a politically motivated generation of young adults, it is hard to fathom why universities are so intent on remaining apolitical. 

Education is not, and never has been, separate from politics. Besides the clear role of money and the crushing student debt so many young people are under for the sake of their education, politics is entwined with the very content we are learning.

Keegan Paras, junior criminal justice and chemistry double major, discussed politics in her classes.

“I’m a criminal justice major, so a lot of the classes I take are inherently political,” she said. “One class, in particular, was pretty political in that it talked about how racism affects the criminal justice system and what that really looks like. We read ‘The New Jim Crow,’ ‘Just Mercy,’ ‘Code of the Streets,’ and all that.”

When classes are inherently political, such as in cases like this, it can be beneficial for professors to disclose their political views as a means of accountability.

“If it is necessary for the class such as [political science], gender/women’s studies, etcetera, then a professor needs to keep all bias out of their discussion,” said senior microbiology major Makena Horne. “Revealing or disclaiming their beliefs could help hold them accountable to non-bias.”

Even STEM topics — which are traditionally supposed to be very objective and separated from politics — have a degree of political bias that is important to acknowledge. Horne, who is on a pre-med track, said as an example that she would never consider attending a medical school that was against abortion.

College administrations are not absolved of political bias either. Students from all demographics deserve to know if they are attending a school that is going to support them and ensure their safety, especially if they are a member of a marginalized community.

“I think admins should make their beliefs public in most ways,” Paras said. “If not explicitly who they vote for, then at the very least if they support the LGBTQ+ community and [people of color] and other related movements … I think we as students should know if they actually care about creating an inclusive and safe environment.”

Both Horne and Paras said that a university’s political beliefs would potentially affect their choice to attend as well.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a school that doesn’t support marginalized communities … much less [give those schools] thousands of dollars. I would like to know my money isn’t going to hurt someone else,” said Paras.

Politics are highly personal for so many people, especially young adults. They deserve to know that the institution they have chosen for the most important part of their education is one that is going to support them and keep them safe.

They also deserve to know that the money they give to these institutions is going to programs and systems that will help them build a better tomorrow, not hurt marginalized communities. 

University administrations should make their political beliefs public knowledge for the sake of their young adult students, who are part of a generation that is more politically motivated and principled than any before them. 

Education is a highly politicized system, and it is time for colleges to stop trying to remain apolitical and be open about what they support and how they will allow students to be taught within their walls.