Calgary doesn’t get political very often. Any opinion that diverges from conventional thought is greeted with apathy or irritation. Even university students, who are supposedly all radical leftists, don’t get angry about much these days.
The opportunity to explore politics and activism in university is unique. At its best, student activism has the ability to affect public discourse. At its worst, mediocre political activism still gives students valuable skills and practical experience.
We probably won’t hold the same political opinions now as we will in twenty years. Ideologies are flexible and new information means changing opinions. Mistakes are inevitable and university is a better time than most to make them. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn and grow from being politically active, including their
We live in a world where most of the opinions we’ve had are catalogued on the Internet, which makes rethinking previously held opinions uncomfortable. It’s easy for others to bring up opinions we’ve held in the past and hold us accountable to them now. Recognizing that opinions change with time and new information is a skill that our generation will have to learn in the future. Fortunately, we’re all in the same boat.
Getting involved in political activism for the first time can be difficult. The pressure to decide on an enduring political stance while in university is stressful. Fear of a disproportionate and prolific public reaction is a valid concern, but participating in debate is important enough to learn to deal with strong public criticism. There’s also a high level of public scrutiny, even at a student level, and we don’t have the resources or reach of powerful institutions.
University students should still be held accountable for their ideas. We’re adults, and we should be conscious of the fact that our words have weight and power. It’s naive to think that people won’t be biased towards certain issues. Engage with people’s ideas, not how they were formed.
If we offer an opinion, particularly in public, we should expect debate. But there’s a difference between challenging the content of someone’s political views and punishing them for having an opinion in the first place.
Dissident political opinions are important. The debate that arises from them is an important part of civil society. University is meant to teach important skills, and being able to rationally discuss an idea in the public sphere is an essential one.
Fear of changing our political opinions in the future should not stop us from speaking out now. A dislike for confrontation should not stop us from participating in public debate. Becoming politically involved is important enough to our future that we should engage with controversial issues loudly and publicly.
In a choice between a world where politically active students make mistakes while participating in public debate and a world where students stay silent on divisive issues for fear of making a mistake or being questioned on their beliefs, I know which one I’d rather live in. I also know which one is better for our future.