SHSU students reluctant to reveal political lean, study finds

Liberal students at Sam Houston State University are reluctant to express their political beliefs compared to students with other political ideologies, according to a study conducted by The Houstonian.

The study found that of the about 380 SHSU students surveyed, 27 percent of students said they have experienced political discrimination. Of the students describing themselves as liberal or far left, 50 percent said they’ve experienced discrimination due to their political opinions.

Those answering conservative or far right tended to follow the same answer patterns to the questions as those saying they are in the middle of the road on the political scale.

“Students are hesitant because they are in Texas, which is a primarily conservative state,” political science professor Heather Evans, Ph.D., said. “For instance, when you drove into Huntsville last year on I-45, there was a massive anti-Obama sign on the highway right before getting to the university. Students who see these things and support [Obama] are less likely to express their opinions for fear of being shunned.”

Texas is one of 21 of the United States’ current Republican trifectas. The state’s electoral college cased a red ballot for the presidency all but once since 1972.

Political science professor Mike Yawn, Ph.D., said that it’s possible that liberal students responded the way they did because of pressure in the classroom.

“Presumably, a student might be concerned that they would voice an opinion that upsets somebody in their classroom,” Yawn said. “[It could be] unpopular with the classroom or unpopular with the professor.”

The study also found that students feel they are dissatisfied with the university’s political atmosphere. Almost 31 percent of liberal students said they were “dissatisfied” with the political atmosphere, while only 6.2 percent of conservatives said the same.

Yawn said the survey could be picking at an even bigger issue outside the confines of political ideology.

“What I pick more up on is that students who are introverted have more difficulty expressing their opinions in class,” Yawn said. “However, expressing and articulating your views is an important part of being a citizen, and, increasingly, it’s an important part of being a productive member of the workforce.”

Evans said that in her classroom, some students don’t even know how to correctly identify themselves, let alone express their respective opinion. Her class is a series of questions that define where students lie on the political spectrum after asking them where they think they lie.

“I’ve been teaching here at the campus for five years and have found that while most students will say that they are conservative, they actually aren’t,” Evans said. “It is difficult to not only get liberal students to express their opinions openly, but to encourage them to vote, given that this state is not competitive.”

Yawn said that students have a good chance to learn how to express their views in the classroom and that it will benefit them for the real world.

“It’s a healthy environment… for students to develop the skills they need to articulate their views,” Yawn said. “They may be wrong, but that gives the professor more information to correct the reasoning [by which students come to a conclusion].”

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