Students, professors say election results changed classroom interactions

Haley Candelario

Following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, some conservative students have expressed concern about having professors whose political values differ from theirs.

Classes were cancelled and counseling services were offered to students following the results of the election.

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One Colorado State University student expressed how having professors with liberal views is a cause for concern.

“It’s just always a little off-putting when you’re in a class and your professor … (is) flat out mocking you (for your beliefs),” the student said, who wished to remain anonymous. “I just don’t think it’s a very appropriate thing to mock political ideologies in front of a 200-person class when it’s very possible that you’re going to have people in that class who agree with those (ideologies).”

The student said that in her experience, professors have never outright mocked students individually for their conservative beliefs, but small talk at the beginning of the class can be off-putting.

“(The mocking) has never been in direct response to the student’s comments,” the student said. “When it is in class, it’s usually just at the very beginning of class … and they’re saying, ‘How was your weekend? Did you see that new bill that passed? I can’t believe people really believe in stuff like that.’ It’s just like, ‘You probably have people in this class who might have voted on it and believe in that. Maybe you shouldn’t be belittling people.’”

The student said her reluctance to speak up about her conservative views have not impacted her academics, but she fears she being ostracized by her peers.

“I don’t want to be labeled as anything for one comment that I might make or have anybody misunderstand who I am and what I believe for a comment, so I stay quiet,” she said. “I think that’s really unfortunate that I feel like I have to do that. I wish I were brave enough to speak up about what I think and challenge other peoples’ views as they challenge mine, but when you’re in a minority situation, it’s a really scary thing to do.”

The student said she is more concerned with the reactions of her peers than her professors.

“What my professor thinks hopefully wouldn’t be reflected in my grade anyway, but that doesn’t make me as uncomfortable as being labeled as something that’s not who I am just because of one thing I say,” she said. “I think it’s definitely more fear of accidentally insulting or having a peer of mine misunderstand what I’m trying to communicate.”

Professors, such as KuoRay Mao in the sociology department, have made the student feel more comfortable about speaking up because they value open communication between students.

“I do have professors who say, ‘I don’t want to make anyone who feels this way (feel) bad, but I want to show you another side of it,’” the student said. “(Mao) said, ‘We’re going to be open, and if there’s something that somebody says that makes you uncomfortable, feel free to come and talk to me about it, but … keep an open mind that there’s a lot of people in this room, and they’re all going to come from different backgrounds and have different opinions.’”

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Other conservative students said they had engaging discussions in their classes. The students said professors allowed the class to have an open discussion about the results as long as they related their comments to something a concept they discussed in class. The students said they did not feel threatened for voicing their views because the discussion was academic.

For some liberal students, classroom interactions have been more emotional, but said they did not feel targeted. Margot Rheinhardt, a junior psychology major with liberal values, said most professors try to educate students if their views are triggering to other students.

“If someone tries to bring up something like that, it could be very triggering for them that’s why (professors) shut things down,” Rheinhardt said. “(They’re) not mean about it or anything. Sometimes she’ll explain why or explain to that person after class why, but sometimes she’ll say, ‘That’s not a conversation we should have right now.’”

Joon Kim, a professor and the chair of the ethnic studies department, said conservative students in his classroom are willing to speak up about their views because they have an educated understanding.

Kim tries to educate students on topics before they discuss their opinions on it.

“What I try to do is provide students with as much accurate, evidence-based information, and then we engage in a discussion rather than, ‘What’s your opinion on (a certain law)?’ and then have people who have an impartial understanding of it go at it with each other,” Kim said. “That would not make it to be a productive conversation. I think students need to have the right information first in order to make sound, logical assessments on the topic rather than being succumbed to these sort of opinions that are not fact-based.”

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Ethnic Studies Professor and Department Chair Joon K. Kim speaks about the conservative students that reside in his classroom with reporter Haley Candelario on February 2nd in Eddy Hall. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

 

Kim said educating students first removes emotions from the discussions and improves discussion because students are focused on fact-based information.

“By taking the emotion out (and) limiting our discussion to the legal and constitutional dimension of this particular executive order, we are able to have a more objective discussion,” Kim said. “The focus is really on the law and the legal discussion rather than how people may emotionally respond to what may appear to be discriminatory on the outside. From that vantage point, I think the students are able to grasp the historical significance as well as the legal variations or the legal ramifications of this particular case.”

Collegian reporter Haley Candelario can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @H_Candelario98.