How Religious Speakers Have Influenced Political Viewpoints of Students
By Brooklin Painter
Walla Walla University’s student political spectrum varies from democratic socialism all the way to neoconservatism. Introducing new topics on campus through different religious speakers has created extreme polarization among the student body. Important topics are being established on campus and the student body has opinions on them that need to be heard.
To further discuss student viewpoints, The Collegian spoke with five individuals on campus who represent most sides of the political spectrum.
Our first conversation was with Jayme Brown, a freshman nursing major. Brown politically identifies as a socialist. She feels that there is a well-rounded mixture of all political sides on campus. When it comes to the influence speakers have on the student body, Brown believes that the speakers probably haven’t changed anyone’s viewpoints, but “have made others more hostile and have discouraged conversation.” 
Another student we spoke with was Anique Gruia, a freshman business major. Gruia politically identifies as a democratic socialist. She feels that there tend to be more left-leaning students on campus, but there’s still a good representation of both sides of the spectrum. Gruia mentioned that “Campus ministries does a fantastic job of addressing important topics.” Be that as it may, she believes, “there has been a negative shift in the attitudes of students because of the speakers preaching on campus.” 
Students like Kenden Staten, freshman psychology major who self-identifies as a leftist, agree that campus ministries have done an excellent job of sparking conversation on campus. Staten is impressed by the way Pastor Andreas Beccai addresses thought-provoking topics while still approaching them in a Seventh-day Adventist tradition.
Despite this, religious speakers still haven’t changed the personal attitudes of students. Gruia added that “speakers have influenced students by solidifying their personal opinions even further.” This implies that students aren’t inclined to listen to speakers and instead become even more close-minded to the speaker’s opinions. 
Coming from a conservative political viewpoint, Austin Ulloa, sophomore nursing major, added to the conversation by commenting, “There is always going to be speaker bias, but there is too much speaking on the left viewpoint. I believe that every speaker should be able to hit their topics on both spectrums evenly, while still voicing their opinion and bringing God into the topic.” 
The student body voiced that they feel a major divide arising on campus, which seems to be fed by the one-sided nature of the speakers’ topics. The students often don’t have opportunities to share their opinions or start discussions about difficult or controversial topics.
Staten proposed a solution to this issue by stating, “Speakers need to approach their topics by fabricating them as more of a conversation than being preached at. This will help students feel like the speakers aren’t pointing fingers at them.” 
The topic presented by Kristen Du Mez has been considered controversial by most. Brown observed that after the Q&A with Du Mez and Albert Handal, “my phone was blowing up with replies after what Du Mez said about ‘biblical masculinity.’ Some people didn’t like how politically strong she was on the topic.”  Gruia added that “Du Mez brought up a lot of conversations within the student body. It solidified a lot of students’ opinions on whichever way they already leaned, whether that was in a positive or negative way.” 
Courtney Clark, a sophomore business major who identifies as a political moderate, has observed that different political groups on campus don’t socially mix together.
The political viewpoints of students often influence their social lives, affecting how they interact with each other on campus and who they choose to affiliate with. This does not lead to unity, but rather division, from a lack of positive or constructive discussion.
Ulloa elaborated this by stating, “Students congregate with other students on campus who usually have the same political viewpoint and opinions. There is a political barrier and it keeps students from connecting with the other side.” 
Brown expressed, “The atmosphere on campus has discouraged people from being more accepting. If anything, it’s creating a much bigger divide.” 
Campus communication becomes either exceedingly negative or positive depending on who you speak to. Some of the individuals we spoke with agreed that there has been a positive shift on campus and others say that there has been a negative shift. However, all individuals stated that this shift on campus has been beneficial because of the possibility for conversations to potentially bring well needed change. Clark mentioned that “students’ voices don’t feel heard and they should be able to voice their opinions on the topics.” 
Students like Ulloa think that religion and politics shouldn’t be mixed at all. Ulloa said, “Politics shouldn’t get in the way of religion. I’m here to learn about God. Leave politics out of it.”  On the other hand, Brown says that religion and politics are one in the same thing.
Should speakers intertwine politics and religion when speaking on campus? To answer this, the students gave their opinions on how to improve speaker influence to the student body.
When religious speakers are only preaching from one political side, it can drive students to feel like their viewpoint doesn’t matter. There may be too much speaker bias, seeing that these students from different sides of the political spectrum don’t feel that they are evenly represented.
Ulloa shared, “No one believes the same thing, so having speakers that are only left-leaning or right-leaning creates conflict within the student body and solidifies people’s opinions even more.” 
To create a solution, Brown declared, “You need to leave a time at the end of worship and CommUnity for questions and debate on the topic shared so that students have a way to express their opinions and better understand the opinions of others.” 
Students are going to share their opinions whether you agree with them or not. To form a positive space for students to share their opinions, campus ministries or the speakers could choose to include them in the discussion. WWU must create a safe and open-minded atmosphere that invites intentional discussion to all students.
1. Interview with Jayme Brown. 11/3/2021.
2. Interview with Anique Gruia. 11/3/2021.
4. Interview with Austin Ulloa. 11/4/2021.
5. Interview with Kenden Staten. 11/3/2021.
6. Interview with Jayme Brown. 11/3/2021.
7. Interview with Anique Gruia. 11/3/2021.
8. Interview with Austin Ulloa. 11/4/2021.
9. Interview with Jayme Brown. 11/3/2021.
10. Interview with Courtney Clark. 11/4/2021.
11. Interview with Austin Ulloa. 11/4/2021.
13. Interview with Jayme Brown. 11/3/2021.