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It’s not easy expressing your centre-right views at a left-wing faculty

Eighty percent of students at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen say they vote for parties on the left-wing. Research suggests that students who identify with centre-right political agendas have a hard time expressing their views.

Blind to your privilege, white supremacist, transphobe are just some of the labels that three students say they have been met with when sharing their political views at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

Two of the students have experienced fellow students rejecting their friendship because they vote for the Danish People’s Party.

Thomas Rohden is a fifth semester student of political science who is active in the Danish Social-Liberal Party’s youth organisation. According to him »he has an easy time« because he has the »right opinions on LGBT and immigration policy,« but he is also of the opinion that the public debate at the faculty »is the least open and accommodating I have ever experienced.«

Christian Vigilius is a first-year political science student and active in the Conservative People’s Party’s youth organisation. He explains that he moderates his views and falls back on self-deprecating humour a lot when debating politics at the faculty in order to not alienate people.

»The gender debate, for example, is an area where you have to tread carefully. I can’t talk to just anyone about gender, because I believe there are two genders, and that is practically an illegal belief here.«

Cille Hald Egholm is in her third semester at political science, she is a board member of the Liberal Party’s youth organisation in Copenhagen, and ran in the student elections for the Conservative Students-party in the fall. Like other conservative candidates and candidates from the social democratic student party Frit Forum, with whom the Conservative Students had an electoral alliance on the basis of both organisations rejecting so-called victimhood culture, had her election posters vandalised.

»It is definitely my experience that my views are wrong. People won’t say so outright, but I sense it,« she says.

Really, really, really few centre-right students

Over the course of the last three years, sociology student Tobias Kjær and anthropology student Blanca Schjødt have conducted surveys among students at CSS (the campus housing the Faculty of Social Sciences) to determine who the students vote for. The survey was informal and not conducted according to scientific standards, never the less its results are probably not completely off mark: Social Sciences is a predominantly left-wing faculty.

Among the 1,201 students at the faculty who participated in the 2019 survey, 28 percent said that a coming election they would vote for the Red-Green Alliance. Another 28 percent answered they would vote for the Danish Social-Liberal Party. Only two students (constituting less than one percent) say they would vote for the Danish People’s Party. Similarly, the Liberal Party only garnered seven percent of the potential votes.

At the Department of Political Science, where Cille Hald Egholm, Christian Vigilius, and Thomas Rohden are students, 86 percent of the students would vote to the left of the middle, while 12 percent said they would vote to the right (two percent remained undecided).

With 35 percent of the votes, the centre-right parties were most popular among economics students. Comparatively, the Danish Social-Liberal Party sat on 39 percent of the vote in that programme. Ninety percent of sociology and anthropology students vote left-wing.

Greater level of intolerance at Political Science?

When students like Cille Hald Egholm and Christian Vigilius explain that their political views are met with hostility at their faculty, research backs up their claims.

A recent study conducted by the Department of Political Science concludes that one in four Danes prefer not to live next to a neighbour who supports the Red-Green Alliance or the Danish People’s Party. The study authors have examined affective polarisation, a term that describes antipathy towards people of a different political persuasion.

»The level of political prejudice among the average Danes is striking, and of course Danish political science students are part of that group, so it’s not surprising that we see the same result here,« says assistant professor Frederik Hjorth, one of the researchers behind the study.

For a mandatory course in scientific practice, he has collected data about how students cast their votes. According to him, 80 percent of political science students said they voted to the left of the middle (which in this case includes the Danish Social-Liberal Party).

There is also a slight tendency among voters to the left of the Social Democratic Party to harbour more prejudices towards their political opposites than is the case the other way around. This group is also over-represented at Political Science and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

This is why Frederik Hjorth expects political intolerance to be even greater among political science students than among the general population. He is adamant, though, that this is conjecture as he has not researched the problem.

Equal rights is not a matter of opinion.
Mette-Marie Nørlev, student and member of the Facebook-group 'Inkluderende miljø på KU'

A major cause of affective polarisation is the value-based politics which may explain why the current debate over identity politics, gender, and social standards is such a contentious one.

According to Frederik Hjorth it is difficult to determine whether students have become more left-wing than they used to be. It may seem like that to the students, who obviously do not know what the political climate amongst students was like, 10, 30, or even 50 years ago:

»Political intolerance is not unique to our time. Speaking with former students who harboured centre-right viewpoints at the Faculty of Humanities in the 1970’s, they will describe to you a political environment shaped by political intolerance,« he says.

We do not have to look that far back for a time when the media reported on centre-right turn among the nation’s youth. In 2015, Berlingske reported that centre-right parties were advancing among the student body at the University of Copenhagen. At the time, the chairman of Conservative Students told the newspaper that conservatives were not seen »the same way the used to be.«

Centre-right student organisations have not, however, succeeded in seizing power of the Student Council at the University of Copenhagen, a non-partisan organ that typically aligns with the left-wing and whose leaders often end up pursuing political careers to the left of the centre.

Last year, Conservative Students were successful at the student elections receiving 9.1 percent of the vote (at the last election they only received four percent).

Centre-right students: They shut us down

At the student elections in 2019, Conservative Students designed an election poster featuring a sombrero and the caption, ‘Identity politics, no thanks’. Images of the poster were shared via the Instagram profile ‘kraenkelseskulturellememes’ (meaning ‘victimhood culture memes’) which has more than 11,000 followers. The image ran with a caption which among other things read that »this is a white supremacist move.« Similarly, the admin behind the account encouraged people to tear down the posters where ever they found them. Frit Forum-candidate Frederikke Werther, whose political message was »victimisation readiness, no thanks« was smeared on the Instagram profile.

»Sadly, that we’re subject to these attacks during the election will discourage other centre-right students from speaking their minds,« says Cille Hald Egholm.

After being interviewed by Berlingske on the matter, Cille Hald Egholm received 10 to 15 messages from past and present students who all recognised her description of the Faculty of Social Sciences as a place where centre-right students either live in hiding or are publicly shamed for their opinions.

»If your views differ from those of the majority, you should expect criticism, but it’s a problem when people start distancing themselves from you which I have experienced personally,« says Cille Hald Egholm.

In October last year, an email was distributed among all the students at the Faculty of Social Sciences which became the subject of a heated debate. Two graduate students working on their thesis had sent out a questionnaire in which participants had to note their gender—male or female. A nonbinary student replied to the email that a third option on the questionnaire was missing which sparked a debate in which the whole faculty was CC’d.

»That whole email thread went off the tracks, « says Christian Vigilius. »Those poor guys whose thesis was based on two gender options were hung out to dry.«

When he began studying political science, Christian Vigilius had already prepared himself for the fact that he probably would not find a lot of friends there.

»I want to stand by my beliefs, and I know that means there’s a risk that there’s no room for me there.«

He does, however, admit that he never discusses immigration policy at the faculty. »It’s a very sensitive subject to a lot of people, and it doesn’t take much for them to label you a bad person.«

Student: Certain views should be shut down

Assistant professor Frederik Hjorth — who performed the study of affective polarisation among Danes — says that as a teacher he does not experience the political intolerance the same way the students in this article describe it:

»In fact, the students don’t seem particularly party politically engaged at all. On the contrary, most political science students are a-political. I rarely experience politically charged debates during class.«

And that’s not just because they all agree?

»Sure, maybe it is just one big echo chamber. I will say, though, it is the right of the teacher to shut down any politically charged debate if it’s not of relevance to the material taught. We’re not here to debate politics, we’re here to learn about politics.«

Associate professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Thomas Brudholm, has previously told the University Post that he has heard of activist students bullying their fellow students:

»There are students, for instance at Anthropology, who have told me that they are at a loss for words in a very heated discussion with activist students,« he says.

Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz and Mette-Marie Nørlev study anthropology at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Forest and natural and cultural heritage management at the University of Copenhagen’s Forest and Landscape College respectively. Mette-Marie Nørlev is a member of the Facebook group ‘Inkluderende miljø på KU’ (‘Inclusive environment at UCPH’), which was founded as a reaction to Conservative Students and Frit Forum’s elections campaign hostility towards identity politics.

They agree that certain opinions should not be heard.

According to Mette-Marie Nørlev, some centre-right voters’ view of humanity is harmful and a violation of human right. Therefore, it is alright for her and others to shut down those types of opinions:

»We’ve accepted this notion that all ideas and opinions are valid, that it’s okay to not like immigrants and trans-people, it’s okay to hate women a little. But equal rights is not a matter of opinion. It’s offensive to the notion of human rights,« she says.

To her and Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz there is a line between opinions on taxes and government spending and the other side what they deem racist, sexist, or otherwise oppressive views.

»Just because you identify as centre-right politically, I don’t automatically dislike you,« says Anna-Oline Grarup Hertz. »The question is, how do you treat other people? Do you discriminate in your choice of words? Are you hurting other people? Then we can’t be friends.«

If people fear reprisal as a consequence to speaking their minds, the public debate will be stifled.
Frederik Hjorth, assistant professor of political science

Tobias Kjær — who collected data on the political views of students — says that it is »a shame that students with centre-right political views feel marginalised in certain programmes. However, it’s difficult to tell at Sociology because there aren’t really any centre-right students there.«

When he started at Sociology there were three or five students there who voted to the right of the centre but they may have dropped out since then, because he does not see them anymore. However, a lack of the centre-right perspective does not exclude political debates at Sociology, the conversations just start another place.

»There is probably an agreement that certain core beliefs about society are truer than others. The dividing line is probably more a question of who is a ‘true’ left-winger and who is socially liberal.«

According to Tobias Kjær, this means that some views are a given, for instance that climate change is important to combat, and the fact that there are more than two genders. That is not problematic, says Tobias Kjær.

»It doesn’t mean people don’t disagree, they just debate the issues within a different framework. It could even mean that the discussions are more nuanced, because we don’t need to discuss whether or not climate change is real. We can go straight to the heart of the matter, which is how to solve the crisis.«

Inhibiting the public debate

In the United States, a 2018 Gallup-poll among college students revealed an increase in the number of students who believed that the freedom of speech in certain cases must come second to inclusivity. This belief was especially popular among female, black, and left-wing students.

The poll concluded that compared to their right-wing counterparts, more left-wing identifying students were in favour of censoring certain modes of expression that are condescending about particular groups within society, costumes that rely on cultural stereotypes, and offensive political opinions.

The poll also concluded that right-wing identifying students in all likelihood have a harder time expressing their views on college campuses. Sixty-nine percent of the students believed that conservative students were accommodated in terms of expressing their views, while 92 percent—regardless of gender, race, or political persuasion —agreed that the same was true for left-wing students.

Assistant professor Frederik Hjorth says that high degree of affective polarization — antipathy towards people of a different political persuasion — can inhibit public debate.

»In a democracy, it is important that we argue our differences in public and that we look at matters from different perspectives. If people fear reprisal as a consequence to speaking their minds, the public debate will be stifled.«

According to political science student Thomas Rohden this is already the case at his faculty. Left-wing politics are the right politics, and centre-right politics are bad politics.

»Compared to the student council, secondary school, political organisations, and the various workplaces I’ve been at, I’ve never experienced a more stifling environment for the public debate than the one at CSS,« he says. »A lot of people, myself included, have simply begun censoring themselves and their opinions.«

Translation: Theis Duelund