Is the Liberal vs. Conservative chorus in America turning Reed into a one-note institution?
by Gay Monteverde
Since the 2000 presidential election, Americans and their politics have become increasingly polarized. The "red states, blue states" iconography is being reinforced by an increase in rhetoric and a sharpening of tongues. Civil debate has become an anachronism. It appears that the public's mind is closed to views different from its own.
According to Reed College President Colin Diver, a liberal arts college should be a place where "the bonds of ignorance, prejudice, hasty judgment, and sloppy thinking," hold no sway, where a rigorous classical curriculum gives students "a hunger to search for the truth and a discipline of inquiry to conduct that search."
Yet can Reed's hunger for the truth be a truth defined by narrow political or philosophical boundaries? Is one of the most liberal campuses in the country, in fact, illiberal? Can one be small "l" "liberal" whether one is liberal or conservative?
What is a Reedie?
Historically, the notion of equality and secularism has been integral in how Reed College defines itself. Financed by Oregon pioneers and entrepreneurs Simeon and Amanda Reed, Reed differed from institutions like neighboring University of Portland and Whitman College, with their religious underpinnings.
Still, it is human nature to be drawn towards others with whom one has something in common. It takes a hefty sense of self worth and a perilous level of curiosity to find "different" more interesting than "similar." This desire to want to be with others with like-minded belief systems has nurtured tragedies of intolerance throughout history.
In the world of higher education, Diver notes, young people choose colleges only partly because of the curricular package. "Students tend to be drawn more to the type of other students they expect to find," he says. "The kinds of kids who go to Brigham Young or the U.S. Military Academy are not drawn to Reed."
As anyone associated with the college will attest, there are some trappings of a "typical" Reedie. First and foremost, Reed students are very, very smart. They tend to be creative and they tend to question authority. Surveys of Reed student preferences also tell us they generally have non-religious and left leaning, democratic tendencies. In a recent survey of first-year Reed students, 84% self-identified as having far left or liberal political views. In that same survey, 64% of students said they had no religious affiliation.
The lack of traditional, organized religious affiliations on campus concerns students like Johnny Casana '05, an anthropology major and member of Interfaith Council. "Students at Reed take it for granted that to have a progressive, politically-minded viewpoint, you have to be smarter or better than religion," he says.