Privilege and Politics: A Commentary on the “Liberal Education Bubble”

I am tired of the insipid criticisms made against liberal education and the creation of soft, powerless young people who seek to shelter themselves from the real world.

This narrative is superficial at best and fails to understand the true underpinnings of why recent movements have held such vast appeal with millennials, a group that has simultaneously been deemed the brightest generation yet.

Often used to belittle attempts to achieve social justice on campus – such as the integration of safe spaces and gender neutral restrooms – the phrase “liberal education bubble” has arisen in many discussions centered on the perceived dangers of the liberal agenda and the brainwashing of the country’s youth. While I cannot speak on behalf of the entire liberal side of the political spectrum, I feel the necessity to clarify the reasoning behind some popular movements across universities nationwide, as well as to defend why young people are not any more brainwashed than their elders.

We have grown up in a world that is more diverse, integrated, and interconnected than any generation before, and this is likely to be the case for those who follow us. As such, we have had the ability to interact and connect with people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, while keeping in mind the histories of many segments of the American population, which for many marginalized groups have been dominated by oppression and institutionalized prejudices. This awareness, and the continued promotion of it, have led us to prioritize empathy and compassion as primary objectives to be implemented not only at an interpersonal level but up the chain, changing norms within our ideologies and institutions.

The recognition of one’s privilege, whether in terms of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, involves an understanding of how in many cases, daily life is structured with certain norms in mind that you have been able to benefit from. This understanding can then take one of two forms: an acceptance of the rules that efficiently organize society, or a sense of responsibility to advocate for those who fall outside the majority and lack certain privileges. The latter impulse has served as the catalyst for attempts at inclusion and movements which strive to correct inequalities created by euro-centrism and white supremacy, the patriarchy and the gender binary.

I am hesitant to believe that this is the result of brainwashing, but rather a reaction to the acknowledgement that inequalities have existed for all of history and continue to impact the realities of people whose identities differ from the norm. The accusation that movements that prioritize inclusion are reflective of indoctrination fails to acknowledge the reverse, that the detection of “tunnel vision” also implies that the observer has a different perspective. In this way, every reality is truly subjective and a reflexive understanding of one’s own privilege is needed to understand the precariousness of questioning the necessity for inclusion itself.

 

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