Hume: Northwestern’s elite liberalism detracts from dialogue, creates exclusion

Jack Hume, Op-Ed Contributor

Northwestern is one of the best places in the world to think, learn and contribute. Our school’s resources — its location, endowment, faculty and students — are a potent combination of strengths that lead the way in making steps towards a better world.

So why do we seem so afraid of thinking?

Almost every day here, I’ve found that we, myself included, fall victim to the inertia in conformity — we shun opinions that make us uncomfortable, heaping praise upon recycled words that offend few and mean little. Under the guise of protecting democracy and providing a space for dialogue, we’ve created a bubble where the pursuit of NU’s motto, “whatsoever things are true,” has been traded for a gilded quasi-theocracy whose deity is Internet liberalism — a set of guidelines colloquially termed “woke culture” — and whose authority is vested in Twitter.

Without a doubt, there are elements of good in the progressive culture we foster. Our willingness to confront sexual assault, an issue dendritically woven into college campuses nationwide, reflects our ability to be uncomfortably introspective. Though we have plenty of work to do, we pride ourselves in our diversity and have students from all backgrounds. And in many places on campus, there is an honest desire to provide space for each person to be their complete self, and we have the resources and support necessary to see that goal through.

Yet somewhere within all those good things, we’re in the process of creating an exclusivism led by academic liberals. I think of members of my extended family and community, who don’t have the luxury of leaving their lives behind for an education at a place like Northwestern. They need the values liberalism offers, the buoying it provides for their daily lives. Yet I’m sure most of them were supporters of President Donald Trump, a high crime by many of our standards. They felt they didn’t have a choice: to them, he understood their reality. For many of us, that seeming contradiction is hard to understand. But is there truly a place for people outside of the world students at NU and other elite universities are creating, one we’ll be leading soon?

The short answer is no. And that’s precisely the danger of the embracing of “woke culture”: there’s only room at the table for those of us privileged enough to have the resources to keep up with it. For others, the daily struggles outside of a college campus — those of grounded, unforgiving reality — make the prospect of keeping in step with the “wokest” an impossible task.

If the exclusion of our remote relatives and surrounding communities aren’t example enough, look no further than within this campus. A few days ago, a column in The Daily asked why there are few to no voices supporting Greek life in the opinion section. I’ll tell you the answer: who among us is brave enough to put their reputation on the line to fight a battle that’s guaranteed to be lost from the start? In the age of liberal intellectual norms, the “debates” on issues like Greek life and many are over long before they’ve begun. The unwritten laws of “wokeness” say that Greek life is evil. Any supposed forum held on the matter — or any other decided issue — is merely a guise for expunging opposition from the thought bubble. Instead of facing these daunting costs, most choose to stick to what they know is safe — silence. The woken world we’re entering will have many words, but I fear they’ll mean little and be said by few.  

Jack Hume is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, 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.