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I voted for Brexit – why do academic colleagues treat me like a pariah?

Sep 15, 2017 by

Universities are supposed to welcome open debate. Yet I worry that admitting I voted for Brexit might harm my prospects

Shortly after last year’s referendum on Britain’s EU membership, I attended a conference on global politics at a high-ranking university. In one of the panel discussions, I “outed” myself: I admitted I had voted leave. There was a nervous silence, before the discussion swiftly moved on. Afterwards, a member of the panel who was also a good friend approached me. Her voice was strained. She uttered one simple word: “Why?”

In her mind, I had just cast my vote for a third world war and for deporting all EU migrants, including several mutual friends working in British universities. I tried to explain my reasons to her as best I could: that the majority of European wars were not started by populists, but by unresponsive and non-accountable elites. That the EU was a product, not a cause, of peace and prosperity in Europe. That British people, having never lost their democracy in the 20th century, didn’t see the EU’s political project in the same light as other member states. After a deep breath, she was silent. We left things on an awkward note.

This is the standard response when my leave vote comes up in conversation with friends and colleagues in academia. I never raise the matter, but it quickly becomes apparent that I disagree with the prevailing view (at least in the arts and humanities) that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is an act of epic foolishness.

When I’m in the mood for debate or just tired of hiding my real views, I come straight out with it. Reactions are mixed: some, like my friend above, express concerned bafflement, as if I am sick in some way. Others are angry, seeing me as enabling the government’s Brexit policies. Many are simply astonished to meet a leave voter in person.

But why should they be? Modern academic inquiry is founded on traditions of freedom of thought and expression, and flourishes in conditions of diversity. Or at least, that’s what we’re told. Too often, however, colleagues assume that everyone in academia shares their political outlook. They leave tropes about respecting diverse opinions in the seminar room. In more informal collegiate settings, dissent can easily be met with passive aggression.

Source: I voted for Brexit – why do academic colleagues treat me like a pariah? | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

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