Hi there! Welcome to the first edition of Carolina Review for the 2022-2023 school year and welcome, Class of 2026. Carolina Review is excited to continue our mission of representing the conservative and libertarian community at UNC. We strive to produce nuanced discourse on campus with opinions which are outnumbered and underrepresented by the general student body. Particularly for freshmen who may not align perfectly with the liberal majority, it can be daunting to speak your mind authentically. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to encourage a free and open exchange of ideas with our fellow students, no matter what.
Released in May of this year, a study by UNC professors provides some insight into the status of free expression on campus. While there’s both good and unfortunate news, our mission remains the same—understanding the obstacles which we face informs us how to best address them.
We’ll start with the unfortunate (albeit predictable) news, then outline what we can do. First and foremost, it is evident that UNC-CH conservative students (and all schools surveyed for that matter) do face unique pressures and challenges. Despite being a state with a near even political divide, self-identified liberals outnumber self-identified conservatives on campus almost 4 to 1; moderates and “undefined” students also account for 24% of the university. No big surprise there. Rather than fearing this imbalance, we must view this as a crucial opportunity and understand it as an exciting opportunity. The fact that we comprise the minority of students affirms the fact that it is of paramount importance we make our voices heard. Higher education should aim for balanced discourse, and we must play or role in ensuring such.
Conservative students selfcensor more, however. Seventyfour percent of conservative students at UNC-CH worry about the opinions of fellow students when speaking, and 41%report self-censoring more than once– over 4 times the number of liberal students who have repeatedly self-censored. The study notes that conservatives are more concerned about free expression at UNC as compared to other schools. This is not likely coincidental. Institutions with high political asymmetry in which “liberal students most substantially outnumber selfdescribed conservatives” yield similar findings. Despite what some may rebut, extremist or bigoted ideas are not the cause self-censorship and fear of student backlash. In fact, the study found “no evidence that the views students hold back run afoul of university policies.”
There was very little evidence that the self-censored opinions of conservative and moderate are “bigoted or discriminatory.” In reality, these underrepresented viewpoints “have the potential to contribute to a vigorous classroom discussion.” Ultimately, students do not self-censor because they hold bigoted or widely objectionable views. Do not be dissuaded by lies that your mainstream conservative opinions are inherently bigoted and intolerable, for it is often a vocal minority of closed-minded students who will try to convince you so. Do not be bullied into silence. A general trepidation accompanies conservative students in particular during political discussions– recognizing this as statistically true allows us to realize the importance of defying our fears. If not, won’t the state of campus affairs worsen? If you won’t speak up, who will?
The leading concern of self-censoring students is a fear of student backlash. Students fear being ostracized from the community for holding an opinion deemed unsavory. Naturally, the most politically active students tend to be the perpetrators of this toxic culture; the study also found that “the most engaged students tend to be those who are less open-minded, less adept at perspective taking,” and “more likely to harbor negative stereotypes.” While these students may be the ones who initially respond to your viewpoints, they do not represent all who listen to them. Do not let a disgruntled and politically radical minority deter you from contributing to our campus. Campus needs you! Although it may initially appear to be a bleak landscape of self-censorship and skewed proportions, it was also found that “students’ appetite for constructive political discussion is strong.”
Indeed, the previous study conducted in 2019 also found that all students “sought exposure to a wider range of views.” Despite what the most vocal (and often, the least open-minded) students have to say, there is an appetite for polite and constructive discourse.
There is only one way to break the status quo of disproportionate self-censorship and help nurture this appetite. Although there are vocal students who will disavow those who support mainstream and moderate conservative, this is not the entirety of campus. In fact, most students want more nuance in campus discourse. As a minority of students, we must step up and unabashedly speak our mind. Interacting with the substantial number of UNC students who want free and open discourse is an important goal. College is a place for rigorous debate and thorough examination of beliefs.
All sides must be active in this process, even if comparatively underrepresented. Ultimately, reforming campus discourse and promoting greater acceptance of varied viewpoints is not, nor will be, an organic process. We must actively take measures to construct the community we wish to see. With the findings of the study and some extrapolation, here are the key conclusions I contend we should draw.
Though outnumbered, those with opinions which differ from the status quo at UNC must share their viewpoints. Precisely because conservatives are outnumbered it is of paramount importance that we share our opinions. Other students should be exposed to views different from their own, and you should have to grapple with their views as well. Perhaps the most crucial component of ideological development and maturation is critical examination. A rigorous examination of one’s ideas unequivocally necessary—after all, this is the purpose of college.
If you never share your opinions, this great opportunity to grow is forgone and you will resign to your stunted and underdeveloped ideological frameworks. Speaking up not only will benefit campus culture writ large, but benefit yourself as well.
When sharing these viewpoints, we must not be dissuaded by the most vocal students—unfortunately, they’re often the least open-minded. While you may feel as though the response to your ideas is harsh, overly critical, and sometimes just downright mean, this reaction does not represent the campus writ large. After all, this study found that clear majorities of students see “too few opportunities for constructive engagement.” The ones who will berate you for disagreeing with their orthodoxy are unlikely to be the same ones who want constructive engagement. Do not cow-tow to those who aim to stifle dissent, for then the students who genuinely want to engage will never have the opportunity.
We have a duty to give underrepresented ideologies at UNC the best face possible. It may not be easy to rise above slander and insults, but we must treat our fellow students with respect, even when disrespected. Who would we be to call for toleration if we cannot exhibit it in all circumstances? Anger towards outgroups does not build constructive dialogue—it starts wars. Offering the understanding and kindness to others which we ask for must remain a constant.
Political Science & Government
Click here to read the August 2022 Edition of Carolina Review.