Political and Social Inclusion and Diversity
In the wake of the polarizing presidential election in 2016 and the election of Trump as our 45th president, there has been renewed debate about ideological and political diversity on college campuses. Though we’ve talked about this issue here before [LINK: https://widenerdiversityblog.com/2015/12/16/checking-ourselves-political-opinion-in-the-classroom], the stakes have gotten much higher. Turning Point USA [link: tpusa.com] recently launched a Professor Watchlist [LINK: www.professorwatchlist.org], which is “an aggregated list of pre-existing news stories that were published by a variety of news organizations” designed to publicize “the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” Incidents that land professors on that watchlist range from tweets to emails to in-class statements. Perhaps the most well-publicized incident is that of Drexel University faculty member, George Ciccariello-Maher [link: www.professorwatchlist.org/index.php/watch-list-directory-search-by-name/242-george-ciccariello-maher], who tweeted that all he wanted for Christmas was “white genocide.” He has gone on the record to provide additional context for his tweets and participate in discussions about freedom of speech on college campuses [LINK: why.org/cms/radiotimes/2016/12/28/freedom-of-speech-on-college-campuses].
In our own school, we have also engaged in conversations about how to avoid discriminating against and marginalizing conservative community members, which have been rather challenging discussions for me personally. I am a social psychologist by training and thus I pay special attention to the ethical principles and code of conduct as written by the American Psychological Association. As stated in the APA’s code of ethics, “In their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status or any basis proscribed by law” [LINK: www.apa.org/ethics/code]. Though my students are not all psychologists, many are social workers who are required to abide by their own codes of ethics that include even stronger language regarding the protection of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups. As such, I aim to address these ethical guidelines in my teaching practices and evaluate adherence to these guidelines in my students. In this way, I have struggled to reconcile my desire to foster diversity of opinion in my teaching practices with my responsibility to contribute to the ethical practices of future practitioners.
How do we allow for diversity of political and social opinion in our classrooms and maintain neutrality beyond the classroom when those opinions may be contrary to the code of ethics we are sworn to uphold in our work? Though obviously not all conservative opinions are rooted in social injustice, how do we promote inclusivity in the expression of varying opinions when some of those opinions may be rooted in discrimination and social injustice? What do you think? Further, what are the limits, if any, of free speech in the classroom? What about beyond the classroom (i.e., on social media)? Do you have any advice for faculty members and other university community members?