On Academic Conformity

Within life on campus, there is already another flu being passed around. Unlike that cough you can’t seem to rid yourself of for a good night’s sleep, this sickness is not even seen as harmful while it spreads to more students every semester. We have all had that one class, discussing a favorite topic of our choosing, when that person raises their hand. You know who I’m talking about, the person who just has to interject that completely ridiculous point to which is responded by a group eye roll as we all wait for it to pass. Wouldn’t academic life be great if that guy could just be quiet and listen to the lecture, or at least refrain from going on about his ridiculous ideas? You may be surprised.
Within our academic space, from the classroom lectures to our everyday discussion, conformity is a growing problem among students. Discussion within our academic circle allows us to learn, grow, and create better ideas. Whether discussing the next business model, political move, historical movement, or even possible motifs for A Street Car Named Desire, comparing and arguing ideas allows the discussion to grow. Although on the surface this may seem like more of a soap box speech about academia then any real pressing sickness, it may impact your everyday life more than you think.
If you can recall coming to Memorial in your first year, looking back you may laugh at how little you knew (or like many of us you may still be scrambling to find your way). Searching for a faculty to join, class to take, or society to join, you may hear things around like “you have to take this class” or “don’t join that society” that merely from word of mouth you say “why not believe them.” “An Arts degree is useless,” “Engineers are a bunch of snobs,” “You’re not in the Honour’s program? You’ll have no chance getting entry to grad school.” Any of these sound familiar? When students take the normative answers as the truth without question, we gain these types of stigmas. Students in return miss out on a possible degree that they would have enjoyed in the arts, or meeting a great bunch of people at the engineering D Day, or continuing to work hard for grad school. Do we have to treat every conversation as an academic discussion? Probably not. Should we maybe question some things when making choices about our future? Might be worth the second glance. Again, I’ll get off my soap box in a moment, but first there is one thing that affects all of us deeply that can’t be ignored.
MUNSU, our undergraduate students’ union, is where this conformity materializes. This piece is neither a criticism nor endorsement of MUNSU, but merely where the results of conformity arise. When it comes to ideas of undergraduates, there is no stronger form of conformity. When discussing topics such as the tuition freeze, the budget, or inclusionary matters (I cannot stress enough how this article is not discussing the validity of these topics nor even giving an opinion on such things, merely using them as an example of conformity), there is a seemingly singular voice which meets any opposition with great violence. It is understandable that on such issues as undergraduate rights and opportunities, we as students cannot provide the room to indulge every alternative merely to please students. But what if I were to say, by not indulging different ideas we weaken our own. If undergraduates stop having these conversations, stop questioning, and stop seeking alternatives, we all lose. Any opportunity to discuss our ideas should be exercised or we will lose out for two primary reasons. First, any instance to defend one’s idea requires you to continuously make it stronger and know it better while preparing you for future defense. If in the future one’s fundamental values have to be defended, it is best to be prepared instead of lacking experience. Secondly, if one is proven wrong in such a discussion, one should grow and take on new opinions. The great benefit of discussion is that in either way, besides a little punishment to our ego, we end up the wiser, every time. I say this in reference to the hostility I mentioned earlier. Merely mentioning that one does not agree with the tuition freeze or how we approach certain hot topics within our student life results not in a question of why they feel this way, but in hostility. If we continue silencing opposition by responding with hostility on the basis of defending opportunity for all, we will in return harm ourselves and provide less opportunity than we, as a student body, could have had.