Some students who have been in the IMSA environment for a while will feel that an agenda is being forced upon them in many of their activities. Be it the lectures drilled into their brains at Navigation and Residence Life Programming, or the “universal” belief statements on every wall, they realize that the entire campus is actively trying to push this agenda. Some of these students decide that this agenda is quite agreeable to them, and keep moving. But there are others who, despite disagreeing with this agenda, are unable to voice their opinions for fear of being ostracized by a hostile campus. They lie low in fear, afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of disturbing the peace. This insulated campus, absolved from criticism and embedded in groupthink, is an example of an echo chamber. If this environment persists, it can destroy the IMSA community as we know it.
The Oxford Dictionary defines an echo chamber as an “environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own so that existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.” For a school that prides itself on its inquiry-based approach to learning, facilitating such an environment seems illogical and narrow-minded. Forcing an ideology down the throats of students instead of letting them explore goes against everything IMSA stands for. Numerous studies show that the silencing of dissenters in an echo chamber leads to a highly polarized community. Those who feel that the echo chamber provides them “safety” have their beliefs reinforced, thus becoming more radicalized. The same fate lands upon those who do no agree with what the echo chamber espouses, since they begin to despise the majority that is silencing them. When words like “radicalized”, “extremist”, and “polarized” are used to describe the IMSA community, it loses its prestige. The “diverse perspectives that enrich understanding and inspire discovery and creativity” in IMSA’s belief statement are required at this critical juncture. If the IMSA community is not to become an extremist hotbed, open discussion is required. Feeble attempts at discussion and Q&A like The Talk programming were hopelessly ineffective. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, could not have put it more succinctly: “I feel like The Talk only facilitated dialogue among those who were interested in the topics, which were mostly common sense. For people who were not interested, it felt like an ideology was being forced upon us.” These sentiments were reflected in the standing ovation that occurred when The Talk ended early.
The IMSA community is at a crucial stage. We can choose to either reinforce the same beliefs and impose them on other people, or we can allow free expression of opinion in the spirit of the First Amendment. One option will drive a wedge between people and bring about an ideological collapse, while the other will bring people together and create a harmonious environment that will set an example for others in this highly polarized society. The choice is ours. In this fearful society, I believe there are a brave few who will open the door to the echo chamber and invite a new sound.