Western Washington University professors Brandon Dupont and Paul Chen have introduced a new community to campus in collaboration with Heterodox Academy in an effort to create better communication among staff, students and faculty.
Founded in 2015, Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that aims to address disunity and conflict within the academic sphere by increasing open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement.
“I think in the last few years, there have been more friends lost than gained for political and ideological reasons,” said Nafees Alam, co-chair of the Boise State Heterodox Academy Campus Community. “I wonder if some of these broken friendships, broken relationships, across the nation could have been mended through just understanding each other, as opposed to having to agree with one another.”
Throughout recent years, the state of polarization in the United States has greatly accelerated, with 86% of Americans saying that they feel exhausted by the division in America, according to the Listen First Project.
As these tensions have become more widespread, groups like Heterodox Academy have emerged with hopes of addressing this increasing division head-on.
“Our commitment to heterodoxy within the academy has taken shape as a response to the rise of orthodoxy within scholarly culture — when people fear shame, ostracism or any other form of social or professional retaliation for questioning or challenging a commonly held idea,” according to Heterodox Academy’s website.
The focus on academic environments has been further centered by the organization’s new campus communities. These communities are provided funding, resources and a network foundation as a vehicle for individual campuses to carry out Heterodox Academy values on their own terms within their communities.
On March 18, Heterodox Academy released a newsletter advertising the second cohort of the program. Western is now among 36 campus communities involved in the academy, with Chen and Dupont as representative co-chairs.
They both said much of their motivation in joining the campus communities comes from what they have seen in their own classrooms. Within their respective courses, the two have observed a recent hesitance in their students to participate, which Chen attributes to increasing social disjunction and intolerance.
“I teach in the political science department, primarily law-related classes, and I always encourage students to speak their mind, to share their ideas, even though I realize that there's always some personal risk when people share their ideas because you don't know what other people will think,” Chen said.
Dupont added to this, saying he has witnessed an increasing pattern of self-censorship as a means of social preservation among staff and students.
Dupont further cited his concern with a national survey referenced by the Bipartisan Policy Center. It found 39% of undergraduates said it is always or sometimes acceptable to engage in “shouting down speakers or trying to prevent them from talking.”
“That's a huge number. That seems problematic to me, if 39% of college students are saying, ‘We don't like your speech, we want to shut it down,’” he said.
Chen and Dupont hope that with the introduction of some of Heterodox Academy’s values and structure to academic spaces at Western, this need and capacity for respectful discourse might be addressed.
“I've always been of the mindset that there are bad ideas, but I think discourse and more ideas tends often to be the solution for that,” Alam said.
With the adoption of Heterodox Acadamy’s values at Western, documentary screenings, panel discussions, speakers and more are expected to begin rolling out.
Brad Johnson, Western Provost, serves campus academic affairs in his position, interacting with programs, personnel and resources like those to be boasted by Western’s Heterodox Academy campus community.
"Intellectual and academic freedom are the essential pillars of higher education, and the ability for all of the campus to further its intellectual and academic pursuits and interests will always remain the functional foundation for an engaged community of scholars," Johnson said in an email.
Morgan Merriam (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year journalism/public relations major. Outside of reporting on the people of Western, Morgan enjoys jewelry making, hiking, and going to concerts. You can reach her at email@example.com.