In looking toward the next presidential election in 2020, students and professors reflect on how colleges and universities affect student’s political beliefs.
Daniel Epstein, a visiting instructor in the political science department, said the political values that change the most for students revolve around gender and sexuality.
This is driven by being exposed to peers who are accepting of these values, not necessarily what is taught in the classroom, he said.
“I think for the sort of sexual morace, it’s definitely peers and classes have very little effect,” he said.
Students realize that their peers who may use birth control and identify as gay make adopting liberal political views more socially acceptable, he said.
Other political beliefs, for the average college student, are not as important or have little change, he said. One area there is an exception to this is the realm of economics.
When students participate in service projects and mission trips to help poor communities here and abroad, Epstein said he has seen a change in their political views after the experience.
“It’s very clear that there’s a lot of empathy created by seeing what it’s like for poor people, sometimes in this country and oftentimes in other countries, and adopting sort of more economically liberal standpoints,” he said.
Further, Epstein said economics students who were once ranging from neutral to politically liberal tend to adopt a more conservative approach.
“But oftentimes, especially the introductory classes in economics, they sort of contain within them a lot of you know kind of built in assumptions about well everyone should be able to work hard and get a good job,” he said.
In regard to how male versus female students change their political views, Epstein said male students are more closed off then their female counterparts.
“Male students, they tend to be more like, ‘I already kind of know everything I need to know about life, give me my credential and don’t try challenge the way I think’,” he said. “And female students tend to be much more open to sort of challenging the set of (values) they come from.”
Epstein also said college towns tend to vote for the Democratic party compared to towns without a university. This is generally true despite the low number of young people visiting the polls.
“But in terms of the effects from election to election, that’s kind of counter veiled by the tendencies of young people to vote less than older people,” he said.
Along with this truth about the low number of young people at the polls, Epstein said Lubbock is probably one of the most conservative college towns in America.
“That’s one thing that I think is really interesting is that Lubbock and Texas Tech tend to be one of the most conservative college towns and college campuses certainly in Texas and probably in America,” he said.
Joshua Slatton, a history junior from Albuquerque, New Mexico, said college has proven to be a place of political expression for him.
“I think college gives you the opportunity to become more open minded to different beliefs that you weren’t necessarily exposed to originally.”
Slatton said his political views have changed since coming to college, and he's been politically active since he can remember.
“I watch the news every day, I’ve been fascinated with politics ever since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’d say (college) has given me more opportunity to be politically active, much more than I was given in high school.”
Despite feeling this freedom for himself, Slatton said he feels many of his peers are uninformed because politics have become polarizing and overwhelming for young people.
“They’re either completely indifferent or they take a side that’s completely far on either side of the spectrum that they just miss the other side entirely,” he said.
On reflecting about how college can make students more understanding, Slatton said the college experience is positive on the whole to grow in different beliefs and values.
“I think college is a great time to open your horizon and just learn about different perspectives but I also think it’s a time to open a dialogue and listen to the other side”
Kevin Harrison, a political science senior from Midland, said he has had the same political views since high school. In his political science classes, Harrison said there is a lot of emphasis on reflecting on the new information and ideas presented to students.
“You’re presented with information and then you reflect on it and for some people it will change their views and for others it’ll harden their views,” he said.
Professors encourage students to defend or challenge their beliefs to aid in the analysis of their beliefs, he said.
“And by that they may not be pushing a specific viewpoint,” he said. “They may be saying look at this look at that, and now what do you think about that.”