Students face new ideas, opinions in college

Coming from his Huntsville high school to UNA wasn’t a long journey for sophomore criminal justice major Tim LeVan, but the political landscape between high school and college changed as if he had traveled across the world.

Facing the traditionally liberal college atmosphere at a largely regional school in a conservative state can be a challenge for some students.

“It surprised me coming from a high school where mostly everyone was conservative and having more liberal ideas pushed on me here,” LeVan said.

Soon after arriving at UNA, LeVan joined the UNA College Republicans to associate himself with like-minded students.

Another college republican, Nathaniel White, a former UNA student now attending the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said part of the reason he joined the group was in reaction to teachers pushing their political agendas in the classroom.

“When I came into college I was surprised in how liberal the campus was and had even landed in some classrooms with professors in the far left,” he said. “The professors had respect for the opinions of every student, but, man, did they try and put up a good argument for what they believed in.

“Fortunately, I never had a teacher dislike my conservatism enough to drop my grades.”

Any teacher actively persuading students’ political beliefs is overstepping his or her bounds, said David Black, adviser to the UNA College Republicans and instructor of economics and finance.

“College should be a transformative experience, but it is not the job of the teacher to break down students’ beliefs and refill them with what they think,” he said. “It’s important for students to think on their own.”

But for UNA junior art major Aaron Kilpatrick, the more socially liberal college atmosphere helped him to find himself. Coming from a conservative family, Kilpatrick had to hide the fact that he is gay from his family.

When he got to college, however, he was able to come out, he said.

“The first year I came to college, I was kind of finding my own,” he said. “I really found myself more in the second semester of my second year. I met people to hang out with who I could really identify with and open up to and not be judged.

“Being in such an open atmosphere helped me to accept myself.”

Black said the true definition of liberal is the ability to critically examine new ideas—it doesn’t just mean democrat. Liberals and conservatives can be guilty of being dismissive of other beliefs, he said.

“Students really come from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of experiences,” he said. “Hopefully, college is a time to grow, learn and mature in thoughts. The pursuit of knowledge should cause you to think, to question so you can rightly divide that which is true and that which is frivolous.”

Kilpatrick said there is room for many belief systems on college campuses.

“Even if you’re not gay—whatever you may be—in the college atmosphere it is easier to feel accepted,” he said. “You can feel like you belong.”

Regardless of political beliefs, college is a place for free expression and open inquiry, LeVan said.

“When I came here, it really opened my eyes to new viewpoints,” he said. “I didn’t have that where I came from. I respect other people’s views, and I want them to respect mine too.”