It goes without saying that one’s youth is a time of trying to fit in.
Typically, this means exaggerating favorable parts or shaving off unwanted edges from your personality. This “fitting in” often comes at a more profound cost in an especially politically engaged and socially concerned generation. Students trade convictions and curiosity for social credit. This defeats the purpose of the academy, a time in life to learn about yourself, your relationship with others, and your relationship with the world. This discourse that was once found at universities has been lost. If one of the purposes of higher education is to prepare students for our roles as citizens, then encouraging us to face these questions head-on is a duty colleges must rise to meet.
In his 1982 essay, On Our Listless Universities, the American philosopher Allan Bloom addresses the issue: “…students in our best universities do not believe in anything, and those universities are doing nothing about it, nor can they. An easygoing American kind of nihilism has descended upon us, a nihilism without terror of the abyss.” The problem of students losing conviction, of settling into this easygoing nihilism is not new. Bloom confirms that universities are meant to be practice fields for students to begin answering life’s great questions for themselves. Today, however, this purpose is being left unrealized. While Bloom was pessimistic that anything could be done to combat nihilism in academia, that the academy itself is promoting and propagating nihilism is particularly concerning and must be addressed.
It would not be a far stretch to say that the rise of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs are a misunderstood attempt at universities trying to rise and meet this challenge of nihilism. The inclusion of different views and backgrounds could bring new perspectives and ideas to these institutions; however, DEI initiatives are a direct symptom of the problem Bloom diagnosed. In becoming so open to all perspectives, schools have closed themselves off in a relativistic trap. All views and beliefs are accepted, except views that disagree with the established progressive norms in the name of supposed diversity. College, the time when students should be encouraged and able to pursue the truth, individually and together, is held hostage by DEI.
A possible alternative to address this need for diversity while also nurturing the search for the truth is political unions. Political unions are prominent fixtures at many of the top universities across the country, serving their campus body by bringing students from all aspects of campus together to purposefully tackle key issues through respectful, constructive, and structured debate. An excerpt from the Cornell political union shows this purpose and could serve as an example to other universities across the country. This example shows the importance of welcoming students of all backgrounds with a plethora of views. It demonstrates that those students can grow to understand one another and the world in a common context.
The creation and encouragement of political unions and debate societies could steer students away from this soft American nihilism that has taken hold. For example, the mission statement of my own school, Clemson University, is to be responsible for “educating undergraduate and graduate students to think deeply about and engage in the social, scientific, economic, and professional challenges of our times.” These goals coalesce perfectly with those of political unions. Where there is a vacuum, a political union could provide a tool for students to debate the challenging topics of our times.
America’s college campuses are failing to provide students with the proper skills to enter the real world, in all of its messiness. The end goal should be for colleges to cultivate virtuous citizens. Creating open forums for student debate and exposing students to different viewpoints is of dire importance to creating well-rounded citizens who seek knowledge and the truth. It is time to combat the dangerous force of easygoing nihilism with open debate.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.