The University of North Carolina prides itself on tolerance. From study abroad opportunities to the academic diversity requirements, the University seeks to ensure that its students have access to a broad range of ideas and beliefs. Undoubtedly, such exposure expands students’ perspectives and creates multiple learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.
Yet one viewpoint is often conspicuously absent from Carolina’s wide array of tolerance: the voice of conservatism. Although the University rarely silences conservatives outright, many of Carolina’s policies, programs, and instructors work in unison to ridicule, diminish, and degrade conservative beliefs.
One recent example of this lack of acceptance can be found in the University’s selection of Sister Helen Prejean’s The Death of Innocents for the Summer Reading Program. Prejean’s book follows the emotional journey of two men whom the author believes were wrongly executed. With each twist and turn, Prejean attacks the practice of putting prisoners to death. Indeed, according to the Daily Tar Heel, at least one committee member expects that, “Students who are for the death penalty will be forced to defend their position.”
Of course, defending one’s beliefs is a hallmark of the learning process, and academic institutions should present alternative positions to foster creative thinking. At the same time, however, the University rarely confronts the convictions of its liberal students. The Summer Reading Program, to take one small example, stands as a glaring testament to the fact that conservatives will be ‘forced to defend their positions,’ while liberal students can find reinforcement for their beliefs within Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed or Michael Sells’s Approaching the Qur’án.
The 2007 selection promises to be no different. While not all conservatives advocate the death penalty, the vast majority of freshman who will come under fire for supporting execution, will hold conservative beliefs. Their experience in the orientation book discussions will be baptism, so to speak, for the necessity of standing up for their views while students at Carolina.
Some will lose their way, but the truth is, regular confrontation only makes most people more certain of their beliefs – more adept at defending what they knows is right. At Carolina, conservative students will learn to polish their arguments and exercise their minds, while liberals, overwhelmingly, will simply be able to regurgitate the beliefs of others.
Perhaps liberals hoping to make the most out of their collegiate experience, therefore, should advocate for a summer reading book that challenges their ideals. As philosopher John Stuart Mill so eloquently put it, “He who knows only his side of the case knows little of that.”