College life just isn’t fun anymore. Undergraduates today often find themselves forced into the culture wars, through no fault of their own. The ubiquity of addictive smartphones and polarizing algorithms that run social media sites create trouble. But the main drivers of overly politicized campus life seem to be the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices — divisive, omnipresent forces on campuses that thrust students into the intense, chaotic and often vicious political world. It’s why, perhaps, that DEI offices are under scrutiny across the country.
Two decades ago, when I was an undergraduate, college life was markedly different. DEI offices did not exist, administrators did not set the tone for campus discourse, and cell phones were not in every pocket. As a result, fellow undergraduate students and I had an opportunity to slow down and digest the world around us. I was on campus for both 9/11 and the inception of growing political polarization in 2020. Nonetheless, we still had the time to pause, think deeply, and contemplate politics, history and the social world; we were encouraged by faculty to think, absorb, debate, and hear others. In my dorm, we had truly diverse programming that would be improbable, if not impossible, today. There were substantial and painful disagreements, but we were a residential community that found common ground and shared numerous collective, often joyful, experiences. We were not awash in social media and there was little chance a small dust-up would become national news.
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