After the bubble burst
MIT’s partisan positions discourage debate and alienate students
In the months leading up to the presidential election, the mostly left-leaning media and social networks promised a Hillary Clinton victory. Many students understandably lived inside a liberal bubble. However, after Donald Trump’s surprising victory, it soon became clear that these students had been out of touch with the concerns of working class citizens living in the heart of this country. In the months since the bubble burst, MIT could have taken a nonpartisan position that attempted to broaden the community’s perspective and to encourage disappointed students to make the best out of the situation. Instead, MIT’s unproductive official response has reconstructed the divisive bubble and alienated many on campus.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, some professors pushed back deadlines and excused students from tests and assignments. The UA leadership informed the student body that they had emailed two administrators asking for “faculty to be more understanding with coursework.” For those students who were distraught about the election, support groups were established. Puppies were disseminated. Would similar actions have been taken if Hillary Clinton had won? Unlikely. Although the UA leadership may have thought that their actions were justified, in reality, they were not solving problems. There is nothing productive about coddling those who supported the losing candidate, as it only teaches that one does not have to assimilate back into society and can instead hide in safe spaces with hashtags like #NotMyPresident. It is difficult for students to effectively cope and grow from the situation when our official representatives encourage self-pity and denial rather than the values in which MIT normally takes great pride: learning and interacting with reality.
After President Trump issued an executive order restricting the immigration of people from seven countries, the Chancellor’s office sent an email inviting students to a rally in Copley Square. It was also noted that all faculty were invited. While MIT should be applauded for doing everything in its power to help the international students affected by this order, the administration overstepped by facilitating a protest and inviting students without even fully explaining the details of the executive order. The UA invited students to a Call Congress Phone Bank to “oppose the Executive Order restricting entry of students and scholars to the United States.” The email described the event as “nonpartisan,” but bribing students with food and handing out scripts outlining how students should tell their representatives they oppose an executive order from the leader of the Republican Party is highly partisan. Furthermore, at the time of the phone bank, both MIT undergraduates affected by the order had already returned to MIT. This strongly suggests that the UA leadership was hosting the event to push their own liberal views — a clearly inappropriate use of MIT funds.
As a consequence, many conservative MIT students now feel alienated on campus and are understandably fearful of expressing their alienation. It is endlessly ironic that liberals preach tolerance, yet are often so intolerant of those who disagree with them. By constantly condemning Trump through official channels and pitting MIT’s “values” against the values of a large fraction of the electorate, MIT’s partisan stance has only exacerbated the polarization that has led us here. A nonpartisan approach by MIT would have been far better for all MIT students. In an effort to promote diversity of both culture and ideas, MIT should encourage its students to strive to see both sides of the political spectrum so as to find common ground. Such a nonpartisan approach would lessen the tension across campus, helping the upset students to convert disappointment into awareness and protecting the conservative students from the backlash. The MIT community as a whole could come together, heal, and set an admirable example for the rest of the country. Instead, MIT’s official stance has had the unprogressive effect of promoting bullying and isolation of the conservative segment of the student body, as well as discouraging meaningful debate across party lines.
MIT students and faculty are normally extremely willing to interact with the forces of nature that stretch beyond our campus, even billions of miles away in space. Everyday we witness the benefits that come with this openness for our campus and the world. The bubble doesn’t exist when we study in our labs and classrooms. Let’s also pop the bubble that surrounds our political conversations, acknowledge the diverse spectrum of views on our campus, and expose ourselves to reality.
Daniel Newman is a member of the Class of 2017.