The Paradox of Tolerance

By Olivia Haas

In his welcoming message on the UCU website, the Dean promises that “diversity is a central feature of UCU, particularly with regard to students’ talents, experiences, lifestyles and learning styles, religions, mother tongues, and social and cultural backgrounds.” There is no arguing that whatever country you come from, you will be accepted here. Gender issues are addressed and there is a real movement towards the integration of the entire LGBT community. UCU is secular, accepting people’s religions as personal and private. Students here praise themselves for their open-mindedness and their belief in eliminating labels of society.

While this might well be true in some cases, UCU pats itself on the back a little too fast if it comes to tolerance. Voicing any opinion diverging slightly from the privileged, ‘progressive’ ones so prevalent here is really not an easy thing to do.

Our progressive and liberal opinions may only be acquired after a great deal of education or what some may call brainwashing. Since arriving at UCU, I have heard so many people on campus simply dismiss the opinion of people considered “less educated than themselves”. By its simplicity, this argument reduces people to a basic label. Their opinions are branded racist, sexist, and stupid purely because they are “less educated”. The same community that preaches not to judge people by their labels is doing precisely that. Just because some people haven’t received our education, doesn’t mean that they haven’t received any. Their values may be different but they exist and are legitimate. For example, as a female student here, if I were to get pregnant now, and decide to keep the child I would feel extremely unaccepted on this campus. It would be of no importance that I choose to keep the child because I want to be a mother, the pregnancy would be seen as damaging to the emancipation of women. Going to university, travelling and pursuing your own self interest is one particular lifestyle that we have chosen here at UCU, but it’s only one of many. There are intelligent, tolerant people that decide that their families and communities are more important than their own self-development, and that’s okay. In fact, in order for us to pursue the lifestyles we want to pursue it is necessary. Equality means that they are entitled to that choice too.  

There is a grand narrative here at UCU about the successful way of life and the right beliefs to have. Because these things are defined so narrowly, we become intolerant to alternative visions. What is the point in having a diverse community if every single person has the same opinion about every single thing? In class discussions it is assumed that everybody will have the same opinion about topics like Trump’s election, or the rise of right wing parties. This silences and shames anyone who may actually have a different, but nevertheless interesting, point of view. Moreover, discussions with opposite viewpoints help opinions to evolve instead of becoming dogmatic. Where is the open-mindedness and the progressiveness in that? “A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to ‘check his privilege’ by students at Ivy League colleges”, Andrew Sullivan wrote in one of this articles about the American election. If liberalism is not careful it might become the exact thing it criticises and us students might become Sullivans students.


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