“Very suddenly, everyone seems to have a voice on Western politics, and of course it is easier to get involved with that in university because we are constantly being encouraged to engage with our political environment.”
University is known for its sense of community, diversity, and inclusivity. Numerous societies give a voice to almost everyone and everything on campus – and yet, it is not this benevolent democracy that we continue our lives with, but rather the strengthened identities we developed that tend to separate us.
When asked about his political beliefs, Patrick Litten, a 20-year-old second year International Relations student, ponders on his membership of the Liberal Democrat party.
Patrick told the IPF: “I am currently the external communications officer for Queen Mary Liberal Democrats. I joined in 2012, largely off the back of the electoral systems part of my AS politics. Essentially, I have always been interested in the systems of how we govern ourselves and the Liberal Democrats pretty much nailed it for me.”
Speaking about their participation in various political groups, most students said that a lot of their ideas were not necessarily formed in university, adding that we enter societies and side with party politics based on our background and in university this is only given the space to flourish.
Monty Shield, a 22-year-old English Literature student and self-identified socialist, appreciates the importance of his life before university politics in his political participation.
He said: “Before university I regarded myself as a socialist in a very vague way, and did not have a particularly worked-out ideology.
“While I always voted Labour when given the chance, it never really occurred to me to join the party given that it was clearly a long way to the right of where I was, and I did not have a wider political perspective on how to achieve socialism that would make me see being active in the Labour Party as useful.
“Activism at university has shaped and sharpened my politics immensely in lots of ways.”
Monty, who was expelled from the Labour Party due to his membership in a radical left-wing group, also added that sometimes participating in university politics allows you to practice your ideological beliefs in a way party politics may not grant you.
In this regard, Ross, a 18-year-old first-year History student with Conservative views, commented:
“I would agree that my background certainly did sway what political party I first followed. I come from a Conservative stronghold so growing up it was something you always saw.
“As I got older however, I did manage to look beyond the one-sided views and looked at other parties’ policies and ideas. In a way I feel this helped me even more to decide which party I felt best suited to back in the future.”
Abbie Maguire, a conservative 21-year-old Linguistics student, believes that ideology alignment is very heavily focused on current events.
“Although I could not align myself with the kind of conservatism David Cameron and his clique preached, I nonetheless found admiration for the likes of Farage, and other eurosceptic, traditionalist members of Parliament.”
However, at the same time, students who have never identified with a political passion find that university is a good time for their ideas to develop and flourish.
Alexandra Naranjo, a US-born 19-year-old second year Biology student, said: “Now, more than ever, regardless of age group, I see people speaking out and aligning themselves with political beliefs. Very suddenly, everyone seems to have a voice on Western politics, and of course it is easier to get involved with that in university because we’re constantly being encouraged to engage with our political environment.”
She added that finding so many different opinions on campus allowed her to feel credible in having political opinions.
“I have residency in the EU, and so when Brexit happened along with Donald Trump becoming a president of my home country, there was suddenly a lot of opinions being circulated around, from people who were from the EU, who were not in the EU, Americans and non-Americans, everyone was having their say.
“And that is what made me feel credible in voicing my own opinions more than anything.”
However, despite the cluster and hotpot of opinions accumulating in political thought, many students felt that these are the solid opinions they will hold onto after they leave university. Monty said: “Many people either get ground down by capitalism in one way or another, or end up having less time to explore left-wing ideas, read or do left-wing activity.”
Monty continued: “And in this context, and in the face of there not being as much political activity around them as at university, it is not surprising that people end up becoming less political or moving away from political beliefs that were constantly being reinforced around them while at university.”
“I think it is quite easy as you get older to become less involved in politics, at university it is much easier for people to be involved, but I guess as people get older it’s much easier to feel disillusioned and less likely to be encouraged to get involved.”
Stephanie Moothoosawmy, a 19-year-old second-year French student argued that in her case, the opposite might happen. Feeling very apolitical in university due to the overwhelming amount of opinions she is faced with, she said that university is great at stimulating and encouraging people to learn and observe more so that they participate later on in life.
She added: “Honestly, the reason I do not really participate in party politics is because I do not fully understand the ins and outs of it. I was never taught about it during school. I do however know about the big things that are going on currently but I would like to learn more about politics in the future.”
Abbie, however, noted that her life has taken the opposite direction: “As I have moved through university, my anti-feminist has grown stronger, my tolerance for people unwilling to help themselves has weakened, and my conservative values have become more and more a part of my identity.”