“Inside Higher Ed” recently posted information about an alarming new website that encourages students and faculty to list liberal professors – to “expose and document” professors who “discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” This is not only a threat to the idea of academic freedom and responsibility, it is an assault on free speech. And, in a time when we now will be governed by people who unabashedly declare their intentions to destroy protections assuring equality and justice for all in the United States, this is something that we, as nurse educators, must take very seriously.
I fully acknowledge that nurse educators, as a whole, represent the same broad spectrum of political loyalties that exist in our country, and this diversity is in fact a real strength for our discipline, and for healthcare. But we must be very clear – that some of the values and commitments that we share as a discipline can be used against us all to cause harm for our selves, our discipline, and healthcare. Here are a few examples of content that we value in our nursing curricula that have already been labeled as “liberal” or “sinful” or “unacceptable” or “anti-American” regardless of the personal political values of the nurse educator presenting the material:
- The sections of our Professional Code of Ethics that direct nurses to provide care for all people regardless of their culture, race, religion, sexual or gender identity, political views, etc.
- Family planning (perhaps including abortion), and caring for patients who are struggling with reproductive issues.
- LGBTQ health disparities.
- Caring for people with any sort of stigmatized condition, including mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases.
- Domestic violence intervention and prevention, including child protective services.
- Therapeutic use of many “alternative’ or “wholistic” healing modalities.
- Sex and sexuality education.
- Issues related to medical dominance in healthcare, the oppression of nurses, or content promoting nurse empowerment.
You might look at some of the items on this list and think that there is no way that you could end up on a list of “liberal professors” for having taught this content in your nursing classrooms. The is true even if you yourself identify as a very conservative citizen personally and politically. So think again … many of us have been “called on the carpet” in one way or another for one or more of these kinds of topics. We ignore the danger inherent in this kind of list at our peril.
So the question for me, and I believe for many of us, is how can we resist, fight back, or expose the dangers involved in a list like this? I do not have the full answers, but here are a few of my ideas:
- Be very clear in our classrooms concerning the values that are fundamental to the best quality of care for all in nursing and healthcare. Link your content to these values in very explicit ways.
- Provide ample opportunity for students to express opposing views, and stress the importance of respectfully listening and considering all points of view.
- Model caring for all in your relationships with your students – show what it means to respect and care for others – your students – regardless of personal characteristics or opinions that are different from your own.
- Be aware of the larger political climate in your school, your institution, your community, and take a stand for human rights and justice wherever it is threatened.
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