November 2nd, 2010
Universities in the U.S. have long been known as marketplaces of ideas. This is important in a student learning environment because of the essential premise behind it葉hat the more ideas that are permitted to be expressed, the more likely that the best ideas will rise to the top. Some of those ideas you will want to latch on to, and others you will firmly disagree with or even find laughable. This is where tolerance becomes a key part of maturing as an individual while you are in college.
The professors you sit under and the people you meet in class and in the dorms will come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them grew up in small towns with conservative sensibilities while others grew up in diverse urban settings. Some of them will be deeply religious, some will be staunch atheists, and some will be apathetic or undecided in their spiritual beliefs. You will encounter students from a variety of cultures with customs you may not have witnessed before, some of which will be international students. You will encounter nontraditional students in their 50s who were born in a generation that looked at the world differently than the average 18- to 24-year-old. Interacting peaceably with those who look, act and believe differently than you is key component of tolerance.
Tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean accepting, condoning or agreeing with other people’s beliefs and ideas, but it does mean respecting the individual who is expressing them. It means listening openly and non-judgmentally when those beliefs and ideas are expressed, without mocking or ridiculing the other person. It also has a lot to do with being intellectually open. When a professor shares an idea that flies in the face of what you were raised to believe, don’t automatically reject it or close yourself off to the professor. Instead, re-evaluate your own beliefs, build a defense for them and share your alternative ideas with your professor and the rest of the class. If you find it necessary, abandon old ideas and prejudices when they no longer fit your worldviews.