Vakil: Making a liberally inclusive Northwestern


Caroline Vakil, Columnist

I used to think that being liberally-minded was the best kind of mindset to have. Politically speaking, I’m pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control and pro-choice. I saw a liberal mindset as an avenue for political progress. But I’ve slowly come to realize while attending Northwestern, that being liberal is much more than being politically aligned somewhere on a spectrum. Being liberal is also a social idea that means being able to listen to other viewpoints even when they don’t coincide with your own, as well as creating a safe space for others to share their viewpoints.

NU doesn’t foster the kind of liberal atmosphere it brags about in its admissions packages, through its social media or through its students. Instead, NU is choosy in how it defines itself as a liberal campus.

It’s no secret that NU is a politically liberal campus. You only have to catch a tidbit of conversation from students walking by or listen to a professor’s remarks in class to quickly learn where most of our campus stands on political and social issues. And that’s awesome because it clearly shows that most faculty and students feel comfortable sharing their opinions.

And yet, there’s a catch.

As great as it is that there is open conversation, this conversation is often catered toward those who are like-minded. For those who don’t see eye-to-eye with others politically, socially, etc., voicing opinions can be intimidating because there’s a mass majority who disagree. In that sense, being politically liberal without being inclusively liberally — being sensitive to the viewpoints and stances of others — seems like a funny paradox.

Although there is no malicious intent made by either students or faculty, offhand remarks and comments on political stances or social issues often have a way of ostracizing some of the eclectic mix of students we were once so proud to brag about. A certain sensitivity to how we approach controversial matters is lost in the process and we quickly lose the safe space we were trying so hard to maintain in the first place.

The beauty of liberal inclusivity comes from the fact that although it does not require agreement with other points of view, it forces you to take alternative opinions and standpoints into account before iterating your own. You actually value what someone else has to say because you know that every opinion matters — even the ones you don’t agree with.

I’m not suggesting that opinions of those who are liberally-minded are invalid or not worth mentioning, but I am asking our campus to be thoughtful and respectful in how we go about expressing our own views and listening to others. Safe spaces don’t exist on campuses where the conversation is muted for fear of rocking the boat.

NU clearly favors progress of all kinds, and now is the time for our campus to improve its own cultural mindset. We don’t have to be content with our limited outlook; NU is home to a beautiful variety of perspectives because our students are a diverse mix of religions, personalities, viewpoints, races, experiences and so much more.

Now is the time to start embracing this — to open up our minds and challenge the way we think by at least giving people a fair shot at expressing their own views. Being politically liberal means changing things for the better, and I cannot think of any better way to do this than by opening up conversations to everyone.

My challenge to all NU students and faculty is to help foster a kind of unreserved and honest community. Have conversations with people whose stances you don’t agree with and meet people with personalities unlike yours. You will find there’s a richness in the type of talks you have and it will open your eyes to how people think differently on things.

NU is only halfway to being truly liberal. Let’s make it whole.

Caroline Vakil is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.