Politics affects campus issues
Views on campus issues surrounding diversity and inclusion are divided along distinctly partisan lines, a News survey suggests.
Sent out earlier this month, the survey’s 2,046 undergraduate respondents — nearly 38 percent of Yale College — indicated that Yale’s political climate is overwhelmingly left-leaning, with nearly 67 percent of respondents identifying as either “liberal” or “very liberal.” When asked about Yale-specific issues, respondents were offered five choices ranging from “strongly invested,” “neutral” to “strongly opposed.” While there was broad support for increasing mental health resources and improving Yale’s career services, views on controversial issues pertaining to race and class were correlated with respondents’ political ideologies.
“I think these issues are at least somewhat politically motivated. However, I do think that a lot of the issues cross party lines, and I think that a lot of students tend not to recognize that point,” Scott Smith ’18 said.
Nearly 70 percent of those identifying as “liberal” or “very liberal” were strongly invested in improving faculty diversity at Yale, an initiative that has attracted significant administrative attention and will distribute $50 million in new funding over the next five years. Only about one-fifth of those identifying as “conservative” or “very conservative” expressed similar enthusiasm. Survey results have not been adjusted for bias.
About 74 percent of respondents who said they were voting for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 supported last fall’s on-campus protests. A similar proportion of students voting for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — just under 70 percent — either opposed or were not invested in the protests. And while 65 percent of Clinton voters were either invested or strongly invested in renaming Calhoun College, more than half of Yale’s Trump voters strongly opposed any such effort.
Despite these findings, John Witt ’94 LAW ’99 GRD ’00, chair of the University’s Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, said he does not believe renaming a building is related to political ideology.
“There is literally nothing partisan about the task of developing principles for deciding when a historical building name should be changed,” Witt said. “Russia renames Leningrad. South Africa drops apartheid-era names. The trustees of a college in New York change from King’s College to Columbia College. And so on. There are good decisions and bad decisions. But they’re not partisan decisions.”
Smith, one of just over 2 percent of respondents who identify as “liberal” or “very liberal” and also oppose the renaming of Calhoun, said his choice of presidential candidate has little bearing on the way he perceives on-campus issues. He added that he finds Yale to be a “toxic political environment,” and that the University acts as an “echo chamber” in which students express their opinions in environments where most people agree with each other.
“My political ideologies are pretty separated from my opinions on renaming Calhoun — I don’t really view it as a political issue,” Smith said.
A small proportion of Trump voters — just 4.3 percent — strongly supported renaming the college.
Andrew Miranker, a professor in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, said he does not think renaming Calhoun College is a partisan issue because the Republican presidential candidate’s views do not reflect those held by conservatives on campus.
Results from the survey indicate that only approximately 27 percent of those who identify as Republicans will be voting for Trump.
“Donald Trump is not a Republican and so I don’t consider this to be a partisan issue,” Miranker said. “Since Trump promulgates hatred and exclusion, it is hardly surprising that his supporters on campus would not be invested in the renaming of Calhoun College.”
“My political ideologies are pretty separated from my opinions on renaming Calhoun — I don’t really view it as a political issue. ”
—Scott Smith ’18
Claire Williamson ’17, however, said she believes opinions on some campus issues tend to fall along party lines, with conservative students more likely to oppose renaming Calhoun College.
Williamson, a Clinton voter who indicated in the survey that she is “strongly opposed” to renaming Calhoun, said any name chosen as a replacement would not please the entire student body, adding that a reversal of last spring’s decision could be seen as the administration pandering to the student body.
Trevor Williams ’17, another self-identified liberal voting for Clinton, also responded as “strongly opposed” to the renaming of Calhoun. He said that while he would be happy to see Calhoun’s name removed from the college, he thinks there are more important causes for Yale students to spend their energy on.
“I’m not strongly opposed to the name change, I’m strongly opposed to the energy and effort that it has consumed,” Williams said. “There [are] a lot more challenges in the city and the country. I would be very happy if they changed the name, and then tomorrow, all the student activism went to addressing the fact that 40 percent of New Haven children live in poverty. But I don’t think that will happen, so I’m jaded about the whole thing.”
Like Williamson, computer science professor David Gelernter ’76 said there is a relationship between one’s political views and stances on key issues, whether on campus or elsewhere. An outspoken conservative, Gelernter recently appeared on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss his support for Trump, noting on air that students at Yale live in an “intellectual ghetto” with little ideological diversity.
“I’ve got a particular view of society, and naturally it’s expressed in my ideas on social, cultural, political and educational issues, and in many other areas,” Gelernter said. “There’s not much to discover in this area — except human nature, but we’ve already discovered that.”
Eighty percent of survey respondents said they intend to vote for Clinton, while slightly less than 5 percent said they will vote for Donald Trump.