7 MIN READ | Political Psychology

Mental Health of University Students and Liberal Bias Among US Universities: Interview with Kyle Hooten

Dennis Relojo-Howell

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Kyle Hooten is a student from Minnesota and writes about liberal bias and abuse on US university campuses for Campus Reform and The College Fix. He attends St Olaf College where he studies political science and history. Additionally, he serves as vice-chair of the Minnesota College Republicans.

1. As a university student, what can you say about reports showing that one in four students experience mental health problems while at university?

It shouldn’t be surprising that 25% of university students struggle with problems of mental health. It seems to me that one factor contributing to this statistic is how people conceptualise institutions of higher learning. To a lot of students being a ‘college kid’ is synonymous with heavy drinking, experiential drug use and sexual promiscuity all for the sake of ‘finding yourself’. Too many people see college as the last hurrah of their youths and a time to go wild and have that ‘college experience’, rather than taking the four years to mould themselves into professionals. I think that society would do itself a good to challenge the way we view college – moving to think more along the lines of ‘young professional adult’ than ‘college kid’.

I also think that colleges aren’t doing much to help this image. It’s not an uncommon sight to see American campuses teaching students how to safely use drugs rather than avoid them or promoting the message that sexual orientation is flexible and needs to be explored. One of the most shocking experiences I’ve had on campus was emerging from the rare and antique books section of the library, where the tables drip with the knowledge of generations and walking to the student centre to get food as it hosts a transgender drag show where my classmates paraded nearly nude to the delight of their drunken peers. The contrast between what university is supposed to be versus what it has become was on full display.

University is no longer a place to absorb the truths of the world and broaden the academic mind – it’s become a hive of rampant hedonism that infects mental illness in a disproportionate amount of its population.

2. On a recent article you said that a student with a conservative view is more at risk of mental health issues than one who holds liberal views. Can you expound on this.

In that article, I cited recent survey findings which revealed that less than half of self-identified conservatives feel welcome on their campus with, 38% revealed that they feel actively unsafe. Compare this to the 88.5% of self-identified liberals who report feeling safe and at ease and one is left to suppose that there’s likely a connection to being right of centre and having a distressing college experience.

I believe this can be attributed to the culture of intolerance at university. There exists a large irony in the fact that liberals tend to tout themselves as the political identity of tolerance, yet in their best stronghold (higher education), 55% of conservative students are so afraid of backlash for their political ideas that they masquerade as liberal. Anecdotally, I’ve had many conservative students and a few professors approach me, telling of how they enjoy watching my activism on campus because they’re too afraid to speak out themselves. These people fear that grades, social reputation and jobs are the potential wages of representing one’s conservative beliefs.

I hold, with the support of some research, that belief is a component of identity. If a person feels that their social position and mobility will be compromised by accurately representing their beliefs and therefore themselves, that person is put in quite the mental bind. University needs to be a place where students can expand their minds and explore new ideas, not a place where conservatives are left in a state of mental health distress stemming from the heavy social pressure to misrepresent their thoughts and ideas.

3. Have you experienced hostility at university because of your conservative views? If so, in what form did this hostility occur?

I have no problem with a hard-hitting political debate. Everybody should have the experience of being on the receiving end of a spirited and well-reasoned criticism of their ideology. Similarly, there is much benefit to gain from learning to construct such political attacks yourself. Unfortunately, I barely need two hands to count the number of times I’ve engaged in logical political discourse during my years in college. Instead, discourse has been personal and illogical.

It started off fairly mild. During orientation week I attended an event where all the 200 or so campus clubs and organisations set up booths promoting themselves and recruiting first year students. Among the sea of eager upperclassmen handing out informative materials and cheap trinkets to starry-eyed newcomers I found the lone booth representing my politics. Nestled in the political section among scores of booths for liberal clubs was the College Republicans table. Without realising the significance of my action, I walked over and put my email on their contact list. When I made the journey of just a few steps back to my new college friends, one of them looked at me like he was waiting for the punchline and asked: ‘What did you write?’ while the others awaited my answer. ‘My email,’ wasn’t a satisfactory response. I was met with a deluge of, ‘You can’t be serious,’ and ‘You seemed like such a good guy,’ before my five new friends went their own way, and I was left only to socialise with the other College Republicans.

Although this was a very minor and non-violent happening, I have since been shouted down, spat on, shoved, labelled as a racist in front of an auditorium of my peers by a college-sponsored speaker, and had student representatives of our campus ‘Political Awareness Committee’ physically attempt to confiscate my laptop after I took notes on a liberal speaker they invited. I guess being a conservative journalist disallows me the same right to take notes and maintain private property as my classmates.

Honestly, during my first year at college, there were days when I was anxious about going to the cafeteria and on edge as I sat in the library for fear of confrontation. I remember just wanting to be left alone and feeling devastated that my campus had decide that my mainstream conservative viewpoint qualified me as a fascist and a Nazi deserving of the harshest rebuke.

These days, I’ve gained more confidence. College has showed me how to stand tall for my beliefs and identify allies. Honestly, this isn’t what I hoped to learn at my school – I wanted to know more about classical philosophy and art, but learning how to contend with broad social rebuke is a valuable lesson as well.

4. What actions should be taken by universities to ensure that there is a balanced representation of views within its community?

There’s no question that universities are politically imbalanced. There’s presently a 12.7 to 1 ratio of liberal to conservative professors in American liberal arts colleges (excluding military schools). Judging only by coursework presented by instructors, most college students wouldn’t have the slightest inclining that there exists an academic defence of conservative ideas, or even developed conservative ideas at all!

I think that this is a top-down problem. Because of the heavy liberal bias in higher education, the vast majority individuals inclined to return to that environment as professors are those who hold liberal beliefs – and the cycle repeats. To correct this cycle, university administrators could increase oversight of curriculum to reduce the impact made by the 12.7 to 1 ratio.

I’m not suggesting that administration gets involved making sure that both sides are presented to every issue, thus micromanaging the professor. I only want to eliminate the broadest examples of abuse. Recently, I was talking with a friend who told me that in her political tolerance class, students were instructed to write a paper on the state of the Republican party in today’s politics – but were only allowed to use sources from a provided list and had to write a paper that was supported by said sources. This list included only opinion articles of the farthest left political bent, painting all conservatives as racist, heartless greedy monsters. The deans could do something to make sure that this political tolerance class is a bit fairer-minded.

I also think that campus censorship of conservative student groups needs to end. Frequently, administration bars conservative groups the same liberty in bringing outside speakers to campus. Even when allowed, conservative groups are frequently charged exorbitant ‘security fees’ after the administration assesses the supposedly high likelihood of a student riot resulting from the presence of non-liberal ideas. I serve as vice-chair for Minnesota State College Republicans and have been involved with the state board for two years. Not once has any conservative group in our state ever brought in a speaker that ended up needing the heavy security we were forced to fund. This requirement placed uniquely on conservative groups that we pay so many extra fees seems designed specifically to limit our presence on campus

Finally, I would like to see administration do something about harassment of conservative students. I’ve had deans tell me that, ‘Hey, at least you’ll come out of here tougher than them,’ after I report being targeted, but I’ve never had a dean publicly stand up against instances of violence against conservatives. Modern college students, myself included, are proud to stand up against unjust targeting and harassment of the vast majority of individuals. I’d just like to see this standard applied fairly to all students, conservatives included. Your local conservative isn’t a Nazi, and contrary to the popular ‘punch a Nazi’ slogan that’s thrown around campuses, they don’t deserve to be abused.

5. Tell us about your future projects.

I’m very excited to say that I will be travelling to Washington DC this summer to intern with The Daily Caller, a news organisation, while I take a political science class at George Mason University. Beyond that, I plan to graduate college in under four years and move on to law school. I’ve also been working on a short book on the topic of American drug culture and its relationship to the social and political forces that are major wars – but publication may still be a long way off. In the immediate present, I’m grateful to have the opportunities provided by the organisations that publish my writing and will continue to develop my skill as a journalist and commentator. 

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Dennis Relojo-Howell is the world’s first blog psychologist and founder of Psychreg. He writes for the American Psychological Association and for other online publications.


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