Harvard suffers from an ideological diversity problem — it’s a point I’ve made again and again in this column by looking at the student population, the faculty makeup, and the campus culture, all of which are overwhelmingly liberal. Yet the discourse on Harvard’s campus is no different from the many echo chambers that exist across the country, in which individuals hear their own beliefs repeated to them more frequently than they encounter new perspectives.
While people in general should make an effort to break out of their echo chambers in the hopes of developing their own beliefs while understanding those of others better, we Harvard students have a special obligation to escape our echo chambers and broaden the horizons of our discourse.
For starters, we’re students, and it is our job to learn. We came to college to immerse ourselves in a variety of subjects, and we chose Harvard because we sought a liberal arts education that would push us to study new ideas. If we are ever to gain an understanding of different ideologies, now is the time.
Secondly, we aspire to be the citizen-leaders of tomorrow. How are we to be leaders in American society when we don’t understand the feelings of conservative individuals — who constitute over one-third of American citizens? How are we to be innovators in the world when the only flavor of politics we understand is decidedly Western and decidedly liberal? Making the world a better place requires understanding our society, and that means seriously grappling with different ideologies.
Harvard’s mission to inspire citizen-leaders is not merely aspirational — it is also reality. President Joe Biden’s cabinet is stacked with Harvard alumni, and the Harvard pedigree is not limited to one side of the aisle. Members of Congress from both parties (although primarily Democrats) disproportionately tout Harvard degrees and attending an elite law school like Harvard or Yale has become almost a rite of passage for Supreme Court justices, both liberal and conservative.
Do we really want our future Democratic congressmen to have never befriended a Republican or truly considered conservative arguments? And do we want future Republican presidents to have been too intimidated in college to discuss their political beliefs with their liberal peers? The current atmosphere at Harvard — where liberal ideas dominate campus discourse and conservative voices are uncommon — could turn this hypothetical into a reality. Our nations’ political institutions are strongest when the politicians who fill them understand the perspectives of those with whom they disagree; Harvard can improve America’s democratic durability twenty years down the line by making improvements to our campus culture today.
The case for a more ideologically-representative discourse at Harvard is not only encouraged by our mission statement; it also is implied in our motto. Veritas requires looking at multiple beliefs before deciding on what you believe is the truth. It means being open to the possibility that reality is more nuanced than we thought. It requires frequent debate, considerable research, and perpetual contemplation. Are we really being intellectually honest if the only professors whose classes we have taken are liberal? Are we being true to ourselves if we haven’t seriously reconsidered any of our beliefs in recent years?
Improving discourse at Harvard is necessary both for our own intellectual growth and for our contribution to society. It is a cause that we should pursue not only in our own self-interest, but also for the sake of others. If we succeed in increasing Harvard’s intellectual diversity among its students and faculty, if we break our echo chamber to ensure that differing viewpoints are represented more evenly, then we can accomplish the dictum engraved on Dexter Gate: “Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”
Jacob M. Miller ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Mathematics concentrator in Lowell House. His column “Diary from an Echo Chamber” appears on alternate Thursdays.