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Too Much Agreement Can be a Bad Thing

By October 25, 2018 No Comments

Photo: @ The Sundial Press

 

It was an unusually rainy afternoon in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, and I was procrastinating, scrolling through the newly created Columbia Dual BA Facebook group. After months of restless anxiety, we were finally able to fantasize about the place where we would be spending the next four years of our life. While making fun of people’s awkward introduction posts, I expressed out loud my excitement that all my future peers shared so many interests with me. In response, I received a brutal, annoyed look from my best friend, who said in her thick German accent, “Honey, everyone there is going to be like you.”

After two years of high school, studying in an international environment at a United World College, Sciences Po’s proclaimed diversity seemed the best way to continue my international experience. For a university, having a 47% international student body is astonishingly rare. Babson, the US college with the highest rate of international students, merely reaches 27%. On its website and in its recruitment campaign, our institution successfully presents itself as belonging to “a tradition of diversity” and incentivizes learning by “confronting different worldviews.” It does not lie. Finding oneself in a prominently international classroom is an experience we take for granted. Whether we are hanging outside the library, starving in the cafeteria line, or getting lost in search for building F, it is possible to hear an impressive variety of accents and languages.

 

However, Sciences Po is also exemplary of how international diversity does not necessarily contribute to ideological divergence.

Sciences Po’s almost 50% international student body may come from 150 different countries, but we all tend to have similar backgrounds. Financial aid for non-European students, and even for students coming from the European Economic Area, is lacking. The cost of Sciences Po is higher than most public European universities. Such economic restrictions lead to a shameful underrepresentation of lower-class students, especially through the international procedure. Thus, the similar socioeconomic upbringing of many foreign undergraduates frighteningly decreases the heterogeneity in political, social, and cultural attitude. For example,  a Pew Research centre study from 2016 showed that well-educated classes tend to be more liberal. This study is part of a larger debate, but it is clear that those of the same class tend to share a similar set of values.

 

In barely two months of classes, I have seen too many controversial debates die down because of an absence of dissenting opinions. International diversity on our campus seems to involve the sharing of examples, rather than the confrontation of different world views. Eugene Fernandes, columnist for The Sundial Press, expressed in his article “The Price of Excellence For All” how Sciences Po fails to produce critical, heterogeneous, and unique graduates. I, too, deem that Sciences Po’s boasted diversity does not necessarily generate an enhancement of learning through genuine disagreement in the classroom. My disappointed German friend was not misguided when she brutally asserted that a majority of peers at Sciences Po would conform to my beliefs.

Diversity of opinion is suppressed not only by our ideological similarities, but also by the absence of other cultures in the Sciences Po curriculum. The EURAM courses I have attended rely mainly on Western thinkers and ideologies. Such behaviour is understandable, as our program reflects a transatlantic exchange of history, culture, and ideas. However, it openly contrasts with Sciences Po’s claim to support an academic exchange of diverging world views. Our “Evil in Politics” course only takes into consideration Western perceptions of evil. My “Philosophies of Life” seminar strives to challenge out ways of knowing, but fails to incorporate non-European voices. Last year, a survey conducted by Sciences Po students on our campus revealed that 975 of the readings assigned by our teachers are written by European or American authors. Sciences Po’s mission to educate passionate and agile global citizens is admirable. Nevertheless, their method to achieve this is unclear.

Increased ideological diversity is an objective that Sciences Po still has to attain. However, it is not only up to the institution to advance in such matters. We students can contribute to this goal through thoughtful and cogent criticism of the things we learn. A classroom environment in which people are willing to challenge their convictions allows for us to develop as students and citizens of the world. Some discussions should be uncomfortable. Allow this place to challenge you, and challenge it right back.

 

Benedetta is a first-year EURAM student attending the Dual BA between Sciences Po and Columbia University. Born and raised in Padova, Italy, she left home to study with peers from all around the globe at the United World College in New Mexico, USA. She is now writing for the Opinion section of the Sundial Press, as she believes that criticism can come from a place of immense compassion and a cogent opposition of normalcy has the potential to create profound change.

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