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2013 Fall Issue 3 (October 11, 2013)

Carleton and Political Correctness: When is Enough Too Much?

October 11, 2013
By Ben Strauss

Finding the right word to use on delicate issues can be tricky. Indeed, Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

Finding the right word can become especially problematic in political discussions where conservative students find themselves hugely outnumbered by their liberal counterparts.

When the current senior class first entered Carleton, 66% of them categorized themselves as liberal, 27% as middle-of-the-road, and 7% as conservative.  Other classes appear to have a similar political mix.

Of course, political correctness will exist in any liberal campus. “Political correctness is the status quo whether you view it negatively or positively; I think it’s just the reality,” Luke Hellwig ‘15 said.

Almost everyone agrees on some standards of political correctness. “I think it’s necessary if the [speech] you are censoring could cause harm to another person socially,” said Mollie Wetherall ’16.

However, political correctness can sometimes become more than just political considerateness. An atmosphere of political correctness can prevent people discussing legitimate viewpoints.

“[Calling people sexist, calling people racist] a lot of the time, I think that is a tactic employed at Carleton in the in the interest of silencing views [people] don’t agree with,” said Dylan Wells ‘16.

Indeed, political correctness can apply not just to inappropriate words but unacceptable beliefs. “You can’t even say half the conservative views without personally offending someone here; it’s very stifling,” said Vincent Spinner ‘15, leader of the Carleton Republicans.

“If you have a view that isn’t what the Carleton norm is, people are going to look down on you, it’s [terrible] but what’s going to change them,” Dan Gero said, the President of Gun Club.

Indeed, the liberal atmosphere at Carleton sometimes leads people to believe in a stereotypical image of Republicans. “I’m optimistic that after some time, we’ll be able to crack the stereotype that conservatives are somehow heartless or somehow anti-future,” said Spinner, “there are conservatives that are not religious; the vast majority of us are not heartless but caring.”

Students can and do find outlets for their views if they try. When asked why he founded the Republican Club, Spinner said he wanted to create “an open forum for friendly discussion and debate that wouldn’t be hostile to those views.”

Conservative students can also foster more conversation on campus about conservatism. “We could host debates with the Carleton democrats.  I know some of them have expressed interest in doing that,” Spinner said.

Liberal students do express genuine interest in discussing their ideas with conservatives. “I’d very much like to meet with the Carleton Republicans,” said Stu Lourey ’16, lead organizer for the Carleton Democrats, “I hope we’ll have the opportunity to work together.  I think a well-rounded political debate on campus is good for everyone.”

Indeed, political correctness may even improve the atmosphere for conservative views. “I think if anything, political correctness would have us be more tolerant of opposing viewpoints” said Sam Braslow ’15.

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