Inside Higher Education recently released its 2017 survey of college admissions counselors. The survey included questions about whether colleges increased their efforts to recruit politically conservative or rural students after President Trump’s victory in 2016. The questions themselves fit into a larger narrative which developed after the election. In this understanding, the “real Americans” living in states like Wisconsin taught rich, out-of-touch elites a lesson. White males, the long oppressed minority of America, were finally heard.
Self identifying, rich, out-of-touch elites have pushed American universities to do more to attract this overlooked minority. In this spirit, Inside Higher Ed asked colleges what they were doing to attract conservative students. As it turns out, admissions offices didn’t do all that much to expand the amount of conservative students. This failure prompted the predictable amount of hand-wringing in the New York Times — apparently the demographic colleges need to recruit is Trump voters.
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While this issue may be relevant for other universities, it’s not what Madison needs to focus on. Wisconsin recently released its campus climate survey which should be a wake up call for people who don’t experience harassment on this campus. Students of color and transgender students report feeling welcome at far lower rates than their peers. In contrast, politically conservative students “were significantly more likely to feel respected, welcome, and like they belong compared to other students.”
Conservative students might feel a little weird when they hear classmates making Trump jokes, but the survey results are telling. At the end of the day, they still feel like they belong at this university. This is good. I’d hate for anyone to feel unwelcome because of their political views. But, the campus climate survey suggests that, in this case, the administration can pat itself on the back. Conservative students still feel accepted and comfortable living and learning in this community. Unfortunately, many students don’t feel welcome.
Our admissions process shouldn’t be focused on bringing in more conservative students, especially when our community is failing students of color and transgender students. The fact that certain groups feel significantly less welcome should be an immediate and pressing concern. The current situation is shameful.
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The university has been going through the motions for the last several years, trying to make the community more inclusive for traditionally marginalized groups. The voices of fellow students, numerous hate and bias incidents, and the Campus Climate Survey itself shows that previous efforts haven’t done enough. Our community continues to fail students.
Inside Higher Education’s survey may be applicable to other universities, but the University of Wisconsin needs to focus on the results of its own survey. The story in Madison is not about liberal intellectuals hopelessly out-of-touch with the “real Americans” in rural Wisconsin. It’s about a university continuing to fail traditionally marginalized students.
Will Maher ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in history and international studies.