Does University Radicalise Students?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Those of the so-called ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ like Dr. Jordan Peterson will argue (in taciturn similarity with the Nazi ‘Cultural Bolshevism’ narrative, rebranded to the more general and generally alt-right ‘Cultural Marxism’ narrative), that “dangerous people [the ‘postmodern neo-Marxists’ – principally academics]are teaching your kids”. In Peterson’s words “they are indoctrinating young minds with their resentment-ridden ideology [Marxism]”, and it’s “their life’s mission to undermine western civilization itself”. If only this were true.

Apart from the ironic ‘resentment-ridden ideology’ remark that engenders his incorrect likening of Marxism, concerned with class-struggle, to the identity-politics characteristic of (heterogeneous) Postmodernist thought, (ignoring that Communists like Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou continuously criticise Postmodernism and liberal bourgeois-reformism for denying the systemic origin of the conflicts they highlight), Peterson assumes that university radicalizes students. I will explain why this assumption is false.

It is an untenable generalization that universities necessarily radicalize students. Nevertheless, fresher’s may wonder what the political scene at their university is like: Is it Conservative? Liberal? A full-blown war between Anarchists and Communists? Or are the student body predominantly apolitical? There are multiple societies and it likely seems daunting. My advice: be open and explore the options and different groups, most have regulars who are especially welcoming.

The reality is that most students are disinterested, only engaging when events affect them. For example, last year at Southampton students from multiple politics societies unified to support their striking lecturers in the USS pension scheme dispute. Many journalists, including myself, published articles in the Wessex Scene and national papers, detailing the crisis and its possible solutions. Yet the student body outside the political scene turned their rage elsewhere, seeming to look beyond the austerity and capital accumulation that had led to staff pensions becoming insecure and underfunded, fuelling the need to strike.

Instead, students focused on the fact they were missing lectures that their tuition fees – code for unnecessary, digital, fictitious debt – were paying for, and therefore demanded reimbursment. Avoiding the reasons for the conflict and developing their political consciousness, the mass of students instead replicated the competitive logic of capitalism that alienated them from their well-intentioned lecturer’s struggle; students even sought to take legal action against the university.

Rather than seeking to overturn the commodification of education that treats them as customers and consumers, as opposed to human beings with the immutable want for self-development, students confined themselves to the capitalist framework, only caring when it affected them. This is why developing your political consciousness is so important. University does not necessitate the radicalization of students but provides the tools for political development and thus radicalization.

Hence, universities undergo constant austerity as the hub of this development. Educational institutions must adhere to ‘Prevent’ or ‘the Prevent duty’ as a counter-measure to supposedly ‘extremist’ views and ‘terrorism’. Rather than resolving the conditions that create such views, our ruling institutions actively try to discourage radical thought as to safeguard their own interests, using the vague, subjective, terms ‘extremist’ and ‘radical’. All the while Prevent looms over academia in a kind-of panoptic essay assessment, alongside an increasingly authoritarian and panoptic society under the guise of security (see the 2017 Investigatory Powers Act and UK surveillance capability). Thus, becoming politically aware will help you navigate these constraints alongside the reasons and remedies for the world’s dilemmas.

In short, don’t be afraid of being divisive, it’s character building. Utilize the services – the library, scholarly databases, and subscriptions – that university provides. Without political development, you’ll be restricted to asking: ‘why did this happen?!’, when the politically astute already know and you could be joining them in changing it.

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Radical journalist interested in Art, Politics, and other creative disciplines.

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