Born and raised in southeast Kansas, Tyler Childress grew up a staunch Republican. He despised big governments, opposed gay marriage and thought the country was investing too much money in poverty programs.
Today, that is no longer the case.
Childress, a junior at the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence, Kan., is now a self-proclaimed left-wing Marxist.
“Right before I came to KU, I worked in a McDonald’s and got to see how people in that class of society get treated,” said Childress, who is majoring in political science and sociology. “Most of the customers, without knowing anything about me — without knowing that I’m an honors student about to go to KU — thought that I was lower class and treated me as if I wasn’t worth their time. Getting a little glimpse of that really kind of changed how I viewed that group of people in society.”
His liberal ideologies fall in line with a growing segment of Americans. Citizens are more in agreement with Obama’s policies than the GOP’s; only 22% of citizens identify as Republicans, according to a recent USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll. With an abundance of hot topics in the news, college students are holding more liberal views, but is that of their own doing, or are they being swayed by factors at their universities?
Gordon Hewitt, the assistant dean of the faculty for institutional research at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., examined the influence that liberal faculties at colleges have over their students. By looking at surveys, he found that other students — not faculty — are more likely to alter one’s political beliefs.
“We did see, overall, that students became more liberal from their freshman to their senior year,” said Hewitt, who co-authored his findings in “Indoctrination U.? Faculty Ideology and Changes in Student Political Orientation.” “At 18, when the students filled out the surveys as freshmen, they are a little bit less liberal than the general population of 18- to 24-year-olds, and actually, they became more in line with the general population of 18- to 24-year-olds.”
Although more liberal, not all young adults are in line with the current administration’s policies. The USA TODAY/Pew poll found that President Obama’s approval rating is at 51%, and only 40% of Americans are satisfied with the recovery of the economy.
In fact, until recently, Childress agreed with some right-wing policies.
“I feel like the one that has been the longest to shake off has been security issues,” he said. “But with the drone program, I just feel a lot of times, we try to claim security. Really, we’re just bringing forth our own interests around the world, and we’re causing more damage for future generations.”
Naturally, it has taken time for Childress to adopt his new beliefs. As an 18-year-old, he was the “conservative one” in his group of friends, but that began to change once he arrived at college and embraced his homosexuality. He enrolled in an American studies class his freshman year, and while the professor remained unbiased, Childress began reassessing his own ideologies.
“I think a lot of times, professors will plant the seed by just introducing you to a lot of different things that exist out in the world,” he said. “And then, it’s really up to the student whether or not they’re willing to look and be sympathetic to those different viewpoints of the world.”
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