Vakil: A ‘politically correct’ attitude can foster social intolerance


Caroline Vakil, Columnist

Throughout the course of this school year, there’s been a number of events and issues that have created controversy both within the Northwestern community and on the national scale of college campuses. Events like the Interfraternity Council banners displayed during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April at NU and the resignation of the University of Missouri president after students and the football team repeatedly called for him to step down have generated much conversation on social media. Although discussions about issues like these are good to have, they are not always possible to have on social media sites because students foster intolerant attitudes toward controversial topics.

There is an increasing anxiety to remain politically correct, especially on social media. We sometimes censor ourselves because we are afraid of upsetting naysayers or coming across as ignorant. Although we need to maintain a thoughtful and considerate approach to how we discuss topics on social media, if we begin to over-censor ourselves in fear that our views may upset others because they don’t align with the majority, then we’re inhibited from freely expressing our thoughts. And in some circumstances, we simply give up the notion of expressing our thoughts at all.

Furthermore, many of the conversations had on social media about anything even slightly controversial can turn into a shouting match with students ganging up on their peers. There is little tolerance shown to one another, and the easy way to shut down those we disagree with is by calling them “bigots” or “insensitive.” Rather than understanding where the foundations of students’ disputes arise from, we simply shun them altogether because we assume they “just don’t understand.”

It’s no surprise then that after multiple attempts to voice our thoughts or play devil’s advocate with others, we begin to view social media sites such as Facebook with a sad skepticism. We assume that our views and thoughts will simply not be taken into account because they aren’t popular with others. In place of the thoughtful discussions we could be having online, we turn to our like-minded friends for conversation and continue to arrive at similar conclusions, stripping away the kind of complex conversations we could be having with other types of individuals.

But what is the point of maintaining this attitude if it frequently limits our freedom of speech? Although we cannot condone remarks that are sexist or racist, for example, I think it’s unfair to stop students short of expressing their opinions because they don’t align socially or politically with our own opinions. If anything, the variety of opinions allows us to grasp the complexity of the issue at hand, giving us perspectives we were unfamiliar with before.

And there’s no point to being politically correct if it’s just another code word for being politically or socially intolerant of one another. Of course we come to college from different walks of life; if anything, we should embrace these diverse experiences and learn from them because they can be illuminating for others. However, we cannot even begin to understand the views of others if we come across as averse to them in the first place.

The answer is not to stop having these conversations on social media because social media is one of the few platforms where we are constantly surrounded by people with views different from our own. Sites such as Facebook or Twitter can foster thoughtful discussions by developing a tolerant community that worries less about being “politically correct” and focuses more on incorporating a spectrum of opinions.

We need to allow for students to feel comfortable expressing their opinions — as controversial as they may be — with others if we want to start to have the kind of thoughtful conversations that can allow us to personally grow and empathize with the standpoints of others.

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.