Despite what you hear in the news, the U.S. is an increasingly welcoming place to be.
Polls show Americans in rising numbers displaying greater tolerance for people unlike themselves. A Pew Research Center poll from 2016 found Americans were more likely than their European counterparts to attest to the societal benefits of diversity.
But while we are overcoming racial, religious and cultural prejudices, relations between red and blue political tribes have only corroded. The most telling example, a Gallup poll from last year showing more than half the country objects to their offspring marrying outside of their political party.
The way this newly inflamed tribalism has played out on college campuses across the country has been especially stifling. Heightened intolerance to ideological differences has transformed the American university’s marketplace of ideas into an insulated echo chamber.
That this ideological uniformity has been allowed to persist across universities for so long may also explain college students’ increasing hostility to free speech. As one’s feedback loop of reliable self-affirmation proceeds unchecked, contradictory viewpoints can rudely interrupt the comforts of confirmation bias, thereby resulting in an intolerance to unorthodox thought.
Unfortunately, this kind of entrenched conformity is a serious intellectual disservice for all students – not just those who hold unpopular views. Limiting students’ exposure to nuanced and conflicting ideas renders them ill-prepared for the future – which will more than likely be spent on the other side of the echo chamber’s walls.
This is why a growing number of academics, from various ideological backgrounds, have taken note of this disturbing trend and have made efforts to reverse it. The Heterodox Academy is one manifestation of those efforts. Founded by constitutional scholar Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz and social scientist Jonathan Haidt, Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan collective of university professors seeking to promote ideological diversity across college campuses.
In an era in which the only thing both sides can agree on is mutual scorn for one another, diversity of ideas might seem like a lost cause. At the same time, the accelerating racial and ethnic tolerance of today would stun inhabitants of an earlier era.
That viewpoint diversity has seemed to arise in place of past prejudices presents a complex challenge – but not an insurmountable one.