University survey finds some students feel discriminated against for their political, religious beliefs

Students with different political ideologies and religious beliefs feel the most discriminated on campus, according to a survey conducted by the University of Colorado.

The study, taken by students, faculty and staff, was designed to measure if students were feeling unsafe or discriminated against while attending the university.

The social climate survey—conducted on all four of UC’s campuses—asked participants to share their key demographics, such as religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, race, political party and political philosophy. They were then asked if they ever felt discriminated against or unsafe because of those identities.

The results revealed that 68 percent of students felt their campus was an overall inclusive and respectful environment. However, there were still students who reported that they felt discriminated against, and were intimidated when it came to voicing their opinions in class.

Of those who hesitated to voice their opinions, 23 percent said it was due to their political philosophy while 22.1 percent referenced their religious or spiritual beliefs. Political affiliation, such as political parties, was the third highest group who feared speaking with 19.1 percent.

“The good news is that overall, discrimination is not a big issue at University of Colorado,” said Board of Regents member Sue Sharkey to Campus Reform. “But still, there was a significant number that did respond that they have experienced discrimination.”

Sharkey, who pushed for the survey to be conducted, did so after she heard stories of conservative professors and students feeling discriminated against in the classroom.

Faculty at UC were not politically diverse according to the findings of the survey. Nearly 59 percent of total faculty described themselves as liberal while only 12.9 percent said they were conservative. At the Boulder campus, fewer than six percent of the faculty are Republicans.

“The nice thing about the survey is we have numbers and evidence. Now that we have identified that this is a real issue we have to focus on how we can fix it.” Sharkey said.

She added that any type of discrimination is unacceptable and that the board is implementing a process of preventing this behavior from occurring in the future.

Currently, UC is on its second year of appointing a visiting scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy. The three-year pilot program is privately sponsored, funding a conservative professor to teach classes, and bring in speakers to encourage political discussion on campus.

Rising senior William Silkman told Campus Reform that while he has never experienced discrimination due to his conservative beliefs, he certainly wouldn’t be surprised to hear that others have had negative experiences.

“I’m sure if you have a professor that is leading an ideology a certain way, it can be uncomfortable to voice a dissenting opinion, especially if it could impact how the professor can view you and your work,” said Silkman.

He also added that political discrimination is a reality in higher education.

“I do think political affiliation is something of an issue on campus, that people don’t necessarily discuss.” said Silkman. “Sometimes your political affiliation can be stereotyped on something negative about you.”

UC also has placed political affiliation and philosophy in their nondiscrimination and harassment policy—held in equal weight as other identifiers such as gender or race.

Sharkey called the policy and survey “ground breaking” and encourages other colleges to follow suit.

“It’s my hope that one day our education can be enriched with promoting and supporting a rigorous discussion and debates of all kinds of ideas.” she said.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @LaurenLouClark