One of the most rewarding--and potentially frustrating--parts of college is being exposed to new ideas and beliefs.
Sometimes they can be helpful and beneficial, increasing our knowledge, inspiring us, or allowing us to change harmful beliefs, but other times they can offend us or even threaten deeply-held worldviews.
When faced with difficult situations that offend our beliefs in educational situations, how can we deal with them?
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Should we cope with them, or avoid them? What do you do when your religion is attacked? Or what do you do when you have to deal with topics you don't believe in at all?
Whatever your situation, here are some considerations and ideas:
1. Understand that although it is difficult, there will always be opinions opposed to yours no matter where you go.
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Part of education is learning more ideas and then either accepting, rejecting, or adapting the ideas.
We're always going to have ideas opposed to ours--it's our choice if and how we allow these ideas to affect us.
For example, an atheist may have to listen to ideas about God, just like a believer in a monotheistic religion will have to hear about polytheistic religions.
You can sometimes try to look at a class syllabus or book list to find out what, if any, content might be objectionable to you.
Or sign up for a class and drop it in the first week (so as to get refunded) if you're too uncomfortable.
You can often find out from other students or online if a teacher has a reputation of being fair and unbiased or if the teacher is some sort of extremist who often offends one or more minority or religious groups and uses class as a podium for his or her own agenda.
A good teacher will give you both sides -and let you choose which side to take, regardless of his or her personal beliefs.
Sometimes classes are core requirements and you can’t get out of them. Other times, you have a choice and can avoid classes that will make you uncomfortable.
For example, if you believe in intelligent design, zoology may bother you because it will focus on evolution compared to a course on human anatomy and physiology.
3. Discuss any concerns with the teacher.
Sometimes there is a clause in the syllabus that notes there may be content you'll find troubling (i.e., vulgarity, strong violence, or strong sexuality) in a class, so either talk to your teacher or drop the class.
Sometimes a teacher may make exceptions, especially if she or he knows you, by giving you an alternate assignment.
Also, when teachers know you are passionate about a topic they will sometimes give you the option of accepting or creating a topic for a paper or presentation that reflects your passion.
Your teacher may even think it’s a great opportunity to express your opinion, participate in class discussions and have some healthy debate. And teachers often have quite a variety of topics to appeal to most interests and beliefs.
4. Take a chance and share your beliefs—respectfully, of course.
It's a free country. Many students will do their presentations or papers on topics reflecting their views. Some do it subtly and some do it blatantly.
One student might do a religious-oriented presentation while another student will write about the challenges of racism and another student might give a persuasive speech supporting a political cause.
As long as you do a good job, have a fair teacher, and remain respectful, there shouldn't be anything against you.
5. You can also debate the presentations of others if, again, you do it respectfully.
During a question and answer section, you can ask a well-formulated question or give an opposing view.
If you remain calm and state your points clearly, sometimes you’ll even expose the speaker’s bias or flaws in his or her reasoning.
6. Get back to your roots.
When opposing viewpoints bother you, go back to the basics!
Review what your religious text says (i.e. the Torah) or reread that biography of the person who most inspires you and makes you passionate about your cause (i.e., Martin Luther King, Jr.).
Read books that defend your beliefs or refute arguments often used against you (i.e. apologetics).
Successful politicians and leaders know their stance without a doubt--and they also know their opposition’s stance and how to refute that stance without hesitation or flinching.
7. Know your rights.
This is America-we have freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.
If your rights are clearly infringed-or you suspect they’ve been infringed upon-then research and see if you’re right or what you can do.
One valuable resource about shaky policies at schools, recognizing your rights, and getting help if you get into legal trouble for exercising your rights is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
College is a place where you’ll share your beliefs and hear about others’ beliefs. What you choose to accept and reject is up to you. Know your rights and don’t let them be taken away.
And, when you’re put down, remember the most important thing is knowing where you stand and if you are truly in the right.