Re-Post: "How Wellesley College Turned Me Into a Liberal"
I'm working hard on my final papers! Well, right this instant, "hardly working: is more like it, as I'm taking a break right at the cusp of my deadlines to do a little bit of spring cleaning.
For a while I had an account on Feministing, a community blog for young feminists. Participating on Feministing was a fun and formative way to edge my way into the feminist blogosphere, but I've drifted away from actively using the site. Because of that, and as part of a general process of tidying up my online presence, I am deleting my account. (For the same reasons that I deleted my Tumblr. It was fine for a while, but with the growing responsibilities of grad school and working life, it just became a bit of a time drain.)
I am very fond of a few of the posts I wrote for the Feministing community blog--a couple of which made it onto the main page--so I will be reprinting those pieces here. Starting with "How Wellesley College Turned Me Into a Liberal."
I certainly was not brainwashed or "indoctrinated."
This piece was intended as a response to a recent op-ed article titled "How Wellesley College Turned Me Into a Conservative" that was published by a recent Wellesley graduate on the website of the conservative newspaper, The Washington Examiner. I submitted a version to the Examiner, but given the decidedly one-sided nature of that paper (search YouTube for "Mark Tapscott," the editorial page editor, and take your pick of choice videos) I have quite despaired of ever seeing my rebuttal appear there. It is the paper's prerogative to decide what kind of content and views it wishes to publish, but it certainly does put the brakes on any opportunity for genuine, constructive discourse.
Though I do not know the author personally, I was a member of her class at Wellesley and I have a very different perspective to offer. In essence, the author, Alexandra Cahill, asserts that Wellesley's curriculum is biased against conservative economic and political theories, and that she was exposed to "four years of liberal indoctrination." Though Miss Cahill's experience is perfectly valid, and she has every right to express her opinions in whatever forum she wishes, I feel that it behooves me to present readers with an alternative view of my esteemed alma mater. (No, I am certainly not uncritical of the academic industrial complex, but that is an article for another time.)
When I entered Wellesley, I identified as vaguely libertarian. I considered myself a social liberal, but believed quite firmly in the superiority of fiscal conservatism--or what is properly termed neoliberalism. Like Miss Cahill, I believed in "hard work, individual freedom, and limited government."
I still believe, more than ever, in individual freedom. I believe that hard work is an important factor in the equation for success, and that the government should interfere as little possible with the private lives of its citizens. What I learned in my years at Wellesley, however, is that no woman is an island. Each individual is caught up in a web of cultural forces that push and pull her in myriad directions. These forces work simultaneously, both with and against each other, in infinite possible configurations. The personal, political, social, and economic spheres are not distinct or easily separated.
At Wellesley, I majored in Women's and Gender Studies, so my classes were more "left-leaning" than most. But they were only "left-leaning" insofar as they took into account the role that factors like race and gender play in all aspects of society, including economics. Proponents of unrestricted capitalism exhort the balancing properties of the "invisible hand" of the free market, but the actual actions and transactions that comprise economic activity--buying, selling, hiring, marketing, et cetera--are carried out by people. People with thoughts, ideas, opinions, and biases that are more complex than a simple desire to consume.
Offering classes that incorporate feminist theory or the sociology of race does not somehow indicate or constitute one-sidedness. It is an acknowledgment of social reality. And, as Miss Cahill points out, professors tend to be fair and actively encourage students to think for themselves. In one of my classes, a student actually asked a professor if we were meant to come away from the course believing in the assertions of some of the theorists we were reading. The professor, somewhat taken aback, responded that we were not expected to believe anything by the end of the course--we were only meant to understand and appreciate the wealth of different ideas within the field.
What I ultimately learned over the course of my four-years at Wellesley was how, not what, to think. Even before I entered Wellesley, I openly identified as a gay woman. While I was in college, I was diagnosed with a condition on the autism spectrum. I mention these very personal points because they lend me a very real stake in the discourse of liberal vs. conservative politics. Being gay and disabled effects my employability and my very ability to participate in the economic system. Anyone who is a member of any minority group knows that the economic playing field is not level. There are entire groups of people that are set up for automatic social and economic failure. For these people, hard work does not pay off as it ought to.
This is the realization that I have come to through discussion with peers of all political stripes, both in and outside of the classroom, and through my own personal experience. It is by facilitating this understanding that my liberal arts education has, indirectly, turned me into a liberal.