Peter Merrill, Campus Carrier news editor

As a once-Christian liberal arts college in the southern United States, Berry College sits on a ley-line of conflicting political ideologies that often come to a head before elections. With the midterm elections taking place on Nov. 8, many students and faculty have political issues on their minds.

Whitney Adams, visiting assistant professor of English, studies the rhetoric of the alt-right, which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines as a loosely connected network of racists and antisemites who reject traditional conservatism for policies that are either explicitly or implicitly racist, sexist, antisemitic or white supremacist. 

“A lot of my research looks at young white men who fall victim to the alt-right,” Adams said. “What’s dangerous about the alt-right is that there’s a lot of different groups within the alt-right. On one hand you might have incel groups, and within the incel community there are even more sub-groups and pockets. You have young white men coming from extreme privilege who know only what their parents think. [The alt-right’s] fragmentation makes them hard to study and hard to track.”

According to the New York Times, hate crimes often spike after elections, like in the case of Donald Trump’s election, who was widely supported by alt-right groups like the Ku Klux Klan. This harassment targeted minority groups and marginalized communities such as LGBTQIA+ people, African Americans, immigrants and women.

Adams said that professors have to be equipped to interact with dangerous ideologies when they crop up and that the most effective way to combat hateful rhetoric was to educate.

“One of the ways to combat the alt-right is through academic study,” Adams said. “We have to know the rhetoric that these groups are using, and of course as a rhetorician, I’m big on responsible rhetoric, but we have to be aware of groups like the alt-right who are using rhetoric in sinister ways.”

Adams has noticed changes in the classroom as well, though these changes primarily came from students who wanted to combat the alt-right.

“I have several students who want to write about reproductive freedom and reproductive justice,” Adams said. “So, ways to combat those rulings. It’s not good that they have to do that, but I’ve noticed students wanting to take a stand.”

Lindsey Yoder, a sophomore and secretary of the Young Democrats said that she had noticed a general ambivalence to politics on campus.

“College kids in general seem to care less about politics because they find everyone annoying,” Yoder said.

Yoder said that the political unawareness on campus was due in part to the “Berry bubble,” which somewhat insulates the campus from outside politics and the lack of political organizations available for interested students.

Despite the antipathy for political activism that Yoder noticed, she encouraged students to take interest in the upcoming Governor and Secretary of State elections, especially since most Berry students live in-state.

“There’s something that we do with the vote organization at SIO (Student Information Organization) on voter registration day,” Yoder said. “It’s a tabling event outside Krannert [that helps people register to vote.]”

Any students interested in joining the Young Democrats can join their meetings, held on Mondays at 7:00 p.m. in Evans 118.

Adams, Yoder and Jetaun Walker, senior and co-president of UNITY, commended the college administration for hosting events that encourage inclusivity and understanding such as Solidarity Week and the Good Neighbour Challenge. 

“I think overall Berry is becoming more inclusive in terms of its political climate,” Adams said. “But I think, just coming here as an outsider, not really knowing a lot about Berry, I definitely think there are certain dominant ideologies that have been a part of influencing the political climate that weren’t always necessarily good.”

Walker said that she also did not witness very much open political discussion on campus, but that because of where Berry is, she feels that the students are more conservative than other liberal arts colleges. She said that although the environment at Berry was very welcoming, there were some issues should receive more attention.

“[I think people should be paying more attention to] race issues,” Walker said. “Like, we have the diversity office and all that kind of stuff. Berry is very community oriented, but I feel like in politics right now we should be more focused on loan forgiveness and the most pressing issue right now, abortion rights.”

Despite the political divisions of the United States, Walker emphasized the importance of unity and understanding.

“Just try to be more understanding of other people’s differences,” Walker said. “Be open to hearing other people’s stories. Try to come outside of the [Berry] bubble, come outside of the box of your normal friend group. Reach out to people if you seem them by themselves. Just try to be accepting of everybody.”

Posted by Campus Carrier

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