A Conscious Effort to End Ideological Echo Chambers at College

Duke University is shaking up student expectations.

The university is supposed to be a place where the free exchange of ideas is heralded and protected at all costs. So what can be done to restore freedom of speech at universities where ideological dissenters face ostracization by their peers and threats of expulsion from administrators?

Duke University is taking a step to break down the echo chambers and help students step out of their comfort zones. Naomi Schaefer Riley, a journalist who focuses on issues in higher education, discusses how Duke will tackle the challenge with incoming students, right from the start.

For incoming freshmen at Duke next fall, it will be the luck of the draw. The university’s administration just announced that roommate assignments for first-year students will be made at random, as they once were. It’s a move that other colleges should follow.

In recent years, new students at Duke and other schools have used social media to seek out people with whom they think they’ll be “compatible” and request them as roommates. In an environment where young people are already politically and culturally polarized—and increasingly trained to believe that anyone who disagrees with them is an enemy—this policy has, predictably, insulated students from those who are different.

To reassure students of the policy change, both Larry Moneta, the school’s vice president for student affairs, and Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, wrote a letter stating “You’ll be fine . . . better in fact! . . . We believe that you’ll enjoy the opportunity to meet someone you’ve not previously known and will have a great opportunity to explore your roommate’s history, culture and interests.”

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