As I sit down to write my final article this semester, I can’t help but consider the echo chamber. If you’ve read an opinion column sometime in the past year, you’re probably familiar with the term– particularly in the context of universities and liberal arts institutions. As a student of the latter, I have spent a great deal of the past year grappling with my position in it all.
In honesty, I don’t agree with much of the emergent repertoire which comes along with echo chambers; I disagree that liberal arts students want to be “coddled;” I don’t buy the rhetoric of conservative “oppression” on college campuses. But I do think that the “echo chamber,” in some ways, comes with an important lesson. I think that we, liberals and conservatives alike, could use a more vibrant conversation. So, I’ve devised ten ways by which we can begin to deconstruct the liberal arts echo chamber. (Keyword: begin.)
- Follow people online with whom you disagree.
With the ability to monitor what you see on the web with the “follow” or “friend” button, it’s easy to end up in the digital echo chamber. Last year, Nicholas Kristof released a list of ten conservative social media profiles you can follow on Twitter. Here are a few for Bates, which include both conservative and liberal voices; after all, the echo chamber at once impacts liberal and conservative communities. Considering the political stance of Bates, the former might be a bit more important for most Bates students– but it’s up to you to decide which voice you’re missing.
Conservative Voices: Frank Bruni, Peggy Noonan, Paul Gigot, Reihan Salam, and David Brooks.
Liberal Voices: Nicholas Kristof, Matthew Yglesias, James Fallows, Gerald Seib, and Ezra Klein.
2) Attend a club which widens your perspective.
I struggle with this one; but it’s crucial. At Bates, we have over 90 clubs and organizations for students. The obvious choice here is for me to say, if you’re a member of Bates Republicans, try attending a meeting of Bates Democrats, and vice versa. But the echo chamber manifests itself in issues beyond politics; to deconstruct it, our approach must be equally-wide in scope. Understand the issues of the Bates Feminist Collective. Attend a meeting with Bates Arts Society. Walking into a room with a group of people whose ideas differ from or challenge your own is no easy task. It helps to bring a buddy.
3) Take a class outside of your comfort zone.
Lest we forget the reason we are at Bates in the first place. At Bates, we have a total of 44 different types of courses of instruction. Try to take a class which challenges your perspective, in any way possible. The way in which your perspective might require expansion will differ among people and identities. If you’re straight, maybe try taking Queer Studies. If you’re white, consider taking an African American studies course. I understand this one might be challenging for those who have many requirements for their major, and have little space to fit these classes into their schedule; Short Term is a great time to try it out.
4) Understand the city in which you live.
We may have taken down the barbed wire fence which separated campus from the Lewiston community; but still, boundaries persist. So, let’s start breaking down these boundaries. Find a community engaged learning program through the Harward center. Go into Lewiston for the day and talk to the people you meet. Get to know the people who own businesses in the L/A area. Listen to them speak. Deconstructing the liberal arts echo chamber is a challenging task; Lewiston is a geographically-convenient place to begin it.
5) Talk to each other. (And listen, too.)
Recent events across liberal arts institutions, in my opinion, have corroborated the importance of this comprehensive principle. I still disagree with the narrative of liberal arts students wanting to be “coddled;” but I think our conversations on campus, perhaps more unilateral than intended, can often be misinterpreted as such. At Bates, I think we can redefine intellectual plurality on campus– in theory and in practice. And for liberal arts schools at large, we might just set the standard for a new kind of campus conversation.