Life of the open mind

The U of C ideal requires questioning our political mind-sets.

By Alice Hur

[img id=”76927″ align=”alignleft”] It’s the final stretch, the moment of truth: Election Day is here. Many of you have been counting down to this moment for months on end, hoping to be a part of making a mark on our nation’s history; however, as with every election, it is also important to carefully scrutinize trends and derive information that can be utilized in the next four years. In light of this past election season, I’ve reached an observation that may come as shocking to most of you: University of Chicago students tend to lean towards the liberal end of the political spectrum. Yes, close your gaping mouths—it’s true!

Fine, so it’s not actually that much of a surprise that the University of Chicago is a verifiable Obama-land; after all, Illinois is the junior senator’s home turf. All of the Chicago area is laden with vendors selling T-shirts, hoodies, and even key chains emblazoned with various endorsements of the candidate (useful, I suppose, if you are in the process of opening your door or starting your car and just so happen to forget your political loyalties). Perhaps this fanatical love of Obama is fair considering the location and history of the U of C—so near his home in Kenwood and once his employer—but the real question at hand is not whether or not these viewpoints are warranted. The more vital inquiry is if such vocal support of a single presidential contender is stifling what has the potential to be an extremely enlightening political rapport on campus.

When I first arrived here I was a little taken aback—never in my life had I seen people more enthusiastic about politics. This was the first place I had encountered where groups of people actually got together to watch the debates and afterwards, chose to converse about them in length. Of course, I am aware that this sort of activity isn’t limited to just the University of Chicago—political activism is a movement sweeping across college campuses everywhere. Over the past several years, voting in the 18–24 demographic has spiked dramatically, in part due to specific targeting of news to this age group through youth-oriented media such as YouTube and MTV. Countering the political indifference of previous years is a wave of young people ready to step up and become a part of choosing our nation’s leaders. Isn’t this passion for politics, then, a stride in the right direction? Well, kind of. The problem with passion is that it can easily tip into the realm of overzealousness. This, unlike passion, has the capacity to cause anything from mild to extreme annoyance. One flier? Great! Five fliers, 10 inbox messages, and an inordinate amount of “Campaign for Barack Obama” chalk messages scribbled in the quad? Not so cool.

In more severe cases, annoyance can even cause one to regress back to unconcern for politics. Each solicitation starts to look redundant, and you begin to think a little: If being involved means having the same generic message and propaganda thrown in your face day after day, perhaps it is better to stay out of politics altogether.

This outcome is, of course, completely counterproductive to the aims of student campaigning. However, it isn’t even the full extent of the damage that can be caused—overzealousness can plummet even further into a world of political extremism, in which individuals are so obsessed with their own beliefs that they shut down or mock any opposing ideas. For a school that so prides itself on its diversity, there are a great number of these individuals on campus. You hear evidence of political bullying everywhere: a random snipe at Republicans, a shooting down of minor Democratic contenders such as Kucinich, editorials that serve no other purpose than to mock McCain. Already being in such a vast minority, the constant insults cause non-Obama supporters to shut their mouths and keep their views private, thus preventing meaningful discussion or debate about politics.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this campus is that all the components for an interesting and revelatory political dialogue are here. A student body of incredibly bright and well informed individuals and a great interest in the American government are present; the pieces just aren’t being used properly. If we could just be slightly more open-minded, we’d all be able to share our own ideas while taking in some valuable counterarguments.

I end by posing a question to those who stick so staunchly to their political beliefs and are quick to denounce anyone who believes something contrary: Did you come to the University of Chicago to reformulate and broaden your political perspective, or did you just come here to find a group of people with identical ideas who would agree with everything you said? If your answer is the former, maybe you should take another look at one of Obama’s own popular slogans and see if you’re a proponent of “more of the same.”

Alice Hur is a first-year in the College majoring in English and political science.