Beloit College draws task force to welcome alternative viewpoints

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Xavier Ward
Thursday, February 16, 2017

BELOIT—When Evan Sepulveda stepped onto campus at Beloit College, he knew his views would be different from much of the student body.

The young Republican didn't know he'd be made to feel like a bad person for his conservative ideology, he said.

As he walked on campus wearing a "Reagan/Bush '84" shirt, a woman told him, “You're exactly what's wrong with society, and you don't belong at Beloit College."

When he went to vote in the fall wearing a "proud to be Republican" pin, another student told him to go home and that he didn't need to be there, he said.

Beloit College was ranked No. 7 on Business Insider's list of most liberal colleges, but the college administration wants to push for the students, faculty and staff to be more welcoming to people of all political and religious stripes.

Conservative students often feel they don't have a voice on campus, which is unfortunate, College President Scott Bierman said.

“We miss out on a large number of learning opportunities because of this,” Bierman said.

Colleges should be a place of free thinking, and that includes engaging with all sorts of ideas, Bierman said.

Beloit College is organizing a task force to encourage students, faculty and staff to engage with each other and think critically, even when met with ideas not similar to their own,  Bierman said.

Sepulveda considers himself a moderate Republican and wasn't a fan of President Trump, he said. He rarely gets an opportunity to express that opinion on campus, he said.

While not all encounters are harsh, he said the campus culture is not accepting of different opinions, and the political climate at the school has worsened, he said.

Dean of Students Ann Davies said she hopes the program she is leading will help.

“In the end, I don't want it to be someone wins and someone loses,” Davies said.

Sustained, critical engagement centered around meaningful dialogue is the hope, she said.

The task force would organize two campus-wide forums each semester to discuss controversial issues and hear arguments from all sides.

Attendees and panel members would engage without name-calling or bigotry, just civil discourse, Davies said.

The hope is the attitude would spill over into other parts of the college such as course curriculum, Davies said.  

It's just one part of the push to create meaningful dialogue, Davies said.

Sepulveda is a junior political science major from Lowell, Massachusetts. While he's involved on campus, he sometimes feels left out because of his conservative political ideology, he said.

Sepulveda is on the Beloit Student Congress, is the lead resident assistant and has a leadership role in his fraternity, but his political views set him aside from much of the campus community.

He believes college is a place to have your opinions challenged—it's how you sharpen your arguments, he said.

“Some people don't want to be challenged; they want to be affirmed in their own opinions,” he said.

“We care too much about beating the other side,” he said.

To Sepulveda, that's antithetical to learning and higher education.

“I think it's hindering their education.”

His ethnicity has even been attacked, but some students have told him he's disgracing his Hispanic heritage by holding conservative views, he said.

He doesn't want to be lumped into one political group because of his identity. He decides his own viewpoints, he said.

He said it all helped him sharpen his arguments, learn to diplomatically defuse situations and brush others off.

Other students have started the Beloit Republicans club, which meets semi-regularly.

Andrew Collins, a first-year student from California and the group's founder, started the group as a political debate group, welcoming all viewpoints, he said.

Jesse, who did not wish to give his last name, said he is a first-year student from California and a member of the Beloit Republicans, but he's a Democrat. In fact, he volunteered for the Clinton campaign in the last election. He joined the group to engage in critical discussion of current events, he said.

Jesse thinks the school is becoming more open-minded and expressing conservative viewpoints is becoming easier.

“Keep an open mind if you truly believe in your ideas,” Jesse said.

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