A downturn in student-on-student civility is one impact, the coordinator and a long-time professor say.
Political science Professor Asslan Khaligh has noticed a decrease in student civility in his classes since President Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017.
These behaviors have impacted his approach as an instructor.
Political science students appear less constrained to voice charged opinions than in previous years, he said Jan. 26 in an interview.
There is a greater occurrence of blunt statements being voiced in classroom discussions as well as the use of profanity, he said.
Khaligh said the president sets the political tone for the nation.
“There is no question” that President Trump has influenced the increase in these student behaviors, Khaligh said. “It starts at the top.”
Khaligh believes Trump’s “attacks” on societal groups, other politicians and a constant changing of his positions on issues has created a chaos in government that is reflected in greater tension in his students.
Khaligh said students in his classes are arriving with stronger opinions about contemporary issues, but that these opinions are often not grounded in fact.
Khaligh said that subject of immigration reform is one of these hot-button topics.
Khaligh said he also believes subtle expressions are becoming more prevalent.
He said Latino and foreign-born students have cited instances to him of being told by other students at this college to expect imminent deportation.
He now receives more comments, such as in student evaluations, which suggest that non-U.S. students receive preferential treatment with grades.
Khaligh disputed these comments. He said that if international students tend toward higher grades, it is because these students are more likely to approach their studies with a greater seriousness.
Khaligh said foreign-born students often come from bad situations in their home countries and seek to take full advantage of opportunities offered in the U.S.
Grade manipulation is unlikely as all tests are machine-graded, and students are not given opinion questions for scored tests, he said.
Khaligh said students at this college are a reflection of U.S. society at large and exhibit the same degree of political polarization that exists throughout the country.
Khaligh said believes these trends are unprecedented in his 36 years at this college.
Khaligh’s comments were mirrored Feb. 7 in an interview with political science coordinator Christy Woodward Kaupert.
Like Khaligh, she believes students have become more emboldened to exhibit negative behaviors and that these commentaries are appearing in more concealed ways.
As an example, Kaupert said there have been several instances of graffiti on messages on department billboards bearing the Trump campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again.”
Kaupert said she attributes higher tensions in students at this college to Trump policies, such his proposed suspension of the DACA immigration program.
Prior to the 2016 election, Kaupert said the presence of DACA immigrants was not a notable political issue.
Because this college and other San Antonio-area higher education institutions instruct a large number of DACA students and also the people they befriend, the negative impacts “hit very close to home.”
Khaligh, whose family fled post-revolutionary Iran in 1980, said these negative trends have prompted changes in the way he conducts his classes.
He now makes a greater effort to voice more positive messaging to his students, such as a theme of unity.
He reminds students to approach lectures with open minds, even if their opinions may differ from his.
Khaligh said he employs several strategies to encourage all students to air their viewpoints.
For example, students are awarded extra points for class participation.
Also, if a student “makes a fool of themselves” in making an earnest effort to voice an opinion but stumbling through the process, this, too, is worth additional points.
Khaligh now injects examples of how he overcame adversities upon his own arrival in the U.S.
He opens up student discussion to a wide range of topics, such as sex and drug usage, beyond those that might be expected in a political science course.
Since a government impacts all facets of its citizen’s lives, it will have policies on these topics.
Khaligh believes that in discussing these, he is also instructing students on government.
Khaligh believes these modifications have had a positive impact as measured by another trend — handshakes.
He said he receives more unanticipated handshakes than in previous years, many from students who hold viewpoints different from his.
While Khaligh said that he does not seek to necessarily change a student’s opinion, the handshakes tell him, “I made a connection.”