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Why liberal prospective students should come to Notre Dame

| Thursday, April 15, 2021

It is not uncommon for me to get a wide range of feedback from students, faculty and alumni after each of my columns. Of course, I receive the most comments after some of my more controversial takes like the truly outlandish positions of thinking that women should have autonomy over their own bodies, LGTBQ+ people should be treated equally and with respect and that people should take the life-saving vaccine that will end our global pandemic. I know, crazy left-wing nut job opinions — I might as well be Karl Marx. Most of what I receive is positive with the occasional critique and possibly a few expletives, but my favorite emails come from prospective high school seniors or their families. 

In each instance, the student was concerned that their progressive political leanings would alienate them on campus or would interfere with their learning. These are legitimate concerns given our university’s heavy conservative reputation. The last thing I want, however, is for prospective students to miss out on Notre Dame in the fear that it is too conservative. In the same vein, Notre Dame cannot afford to miss out on the diversity and vitality of young progressive students. To progressive students considering attending Notre Dame, my message to you is this: it’s worth it. I say this for a number of reasons. 

It’s good to have your political beliefs challenged

Notre Dame has a strong conservative population, and while some of these students or professors can make you want to belly flop into Saint Mary’s Lake in January, the vast majority are smart and friendly people. The conversations I’ve had in the classroom, around the dinner table at Rocco’s Pizza and in the dorms at 3 a.m. have shaped and molded my feelings about politics, faith and justice. They make me not only reconsider the issue at hand, but they make me consider why I feel the way I do. My best learning in college has been when I’ve been challenged and taken outside of my political echo chamber. The political diversity of the student body at Notre Dame is not a weakness of the university — it’s a strength. 

Political affiliation is not everything

Beyond the ability to craft and debate your views, I would highly encourage you to not pick a university based solely on the political ideologies of the student body. I have said it before and I will say it again: political affiliation should not be a litmus test for friendship. Some of my best friends at Notre Dame are conservative. They’re not my friends because they challenge my political beliefs; they’re my friends because they’re good people. They’re there for me at my lows, celebrate with me at my highs and make me an all around better person. Notre Dame is a fantastic academic institution, places a heavy emphasis on community and has great athletics with a beautiful campus. The friends I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned will last me a lifetime. Don’t miss out on this because you’re worried about your politics.

There are plenty of liberals at Notre Dame

Okay fine, if you completely ignored my last point that’s okay — I’ll get over it. Even if you do want to pick your university based on the political ideology of the student body, Notre Dame has a lot of liberals. Like, a lot. Based on my experience the vast majority of ND students would classify themselves as moderate with a few on the far right and a few more on the far left. Just this past month Notre Dame created its first ever socialist club and boasts a magazine (unaffiliated with the university) called the Irish Worker which projects far left, socialist material. Quick side note, I would highly recommend reading the Irish Worker; they have some phenomenal content. Importantly, whenever one of the strange right-wing conservative student groups on campus feels like they’re not getting enough attention and says or tweets something offensive, there is an immediate response from the progressive students to collectively dunk on them. If you’re worried that you won’t find a space to talk to other liberals or that you might be ostracized for your far left views, (at least in my experience) you won’t be. The Notre Dame student body is actually fairly progressive, we’re just trapped in a conservative institution.

Notre Dame needs you

This last point is the most important. Notre Dame — as a student body, a university and an institution — needs your voices. Notre Dame is nothing without its students. We need you, progressive students from around the world from a myriad of backgrounds, to keep fighting the good fight. We need you to continue to push for equal protection for all students across campus. We need you to make our community even more welcoming and inclusive to diverse students, faculty and staff. We need you to organize your voices into a coherent liberal mouthpiece that is loud enough to be heard across the country. We need you to hold Notre Dame accountable. It is vital that you lend your collective experiences to this community; each and every one of you makes us stronger. 

Picking a college is a daunting task. There are a million different things to consider, and you should go wherever you feel most comfortable, excited and passionate. But don’t overlook Notre Dame because of its conservative reputation. This can be a place where progressive students flourish, it just needs voices like yours.

Clark Bowden is a senior political science major. When he’s not sleeping through his alarm or reminding people that he studied abroad, he can be found in heated political debates or watching the Washington Nationals play baseball. He can be reached at [email protected] or @BowdenClark on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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