Data speaks louder than words. Whether correlating ice cream sales with the change in seasons, or linking sleep deprivation with teen depression, numbers tell stories. The results of a poll of Clark students tells a story of a campus with a larger political divide than can be seen on the surface.
The poll, conducted by the Independent from Feb. 27 to March 7, inquired about students’ political identities, views, and experiences with Clark’s political climate. The Indy received 327 responses from Washington and Oregon.
The poll results showed that those who study, teach and do other work at Clark were mostly perceived as being politically left. Fifty-five percent of respondents viewed the campus as liberal, 36 percent as moderate and only 2 percent as conservative. Four percent answered “other.”According to sociology and criminal justice professor Don Ludwig, this left lean is consistent with the culture of higher education nationwide.
“Colleges and universities are historically some of the most liberal of institutions that you can find,” Ludwig said. “And I think that one of the main reasons for that is that we serve education, so it is all about learning more and being open to seeking knowledge. And with that goal, we will be more prone to being open minded.”
The poll respondents, however, represented a more even distribution on the political scale. Only 32 percent identified as liberal, 32 percent as moderate, 26 percent as conservative and 10 percent as “other.” That’s a 24 percent gap between the number of conservatives and the perception of Clark’s politics.
Communication studies instructor Molly Lampros cautioned against extrapolating from one poll that all conservatives feel silenced at Clark.
“That is a perception, not necessarily a reality,” Lampros said. “Because until we get accurate numbers of all [estimated] 11,000 students we don’t really know what the political makeup is.”
Uncertainty might have a role in the disparity between conservative students and conservative voices: 39 percent of respondents said they were unsure whether other students agree with their political views. Thirty-one percent said students do not agree with them, and only 23 percent said they do.
Despite respondents’ doubt that other students agree with them, only 17 percent said they feel isolated for their beliefs. That number rises to 40 percent when considering responses from conservatives, as opposed to only 2 percent of liberals.
“If you perceive yourself to be in the minority on any belief, you are less likely to voice your opinion for fear of being ostracized socially,” Lampros said.
While one student called Clark a “safe and respectful environment for political discussion,” several responses expressed feeling like other students and teachers are not open to conservative ideas. One recounted feeling laughed at in a political science class.
According to Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Belden, political expression serves a purpose in education.
“I think our role as an educational institution is to help broaden people’s perspectives,” Belden said. “For [students] to be able to have disagreements and to be able to state their opinions or beliefs… That’s part of being in a community, so I would hope that for our students.”
For Lampros, the beauty of community and education comes from classroom discussions.
“Having those dialogues in a classroom, you never know where they are going to go,” Lampros said. “People are not going to change their core values in a five minute debate; it just won’t happen. But I think that there is merit in understanding other people’s perspective.”