Ever since one of my professors found out I didn’t share his woke opinions, I’ve been having a hard time sharing my interests with them. Suffice it to say, those who preach tolerance can be quite intolerant!
Anyway, I would like to have a research plan for studying culture that they can’t dismiss as “racist” (because I believe in being colorblind instead of practicing reverse discrimination), “homophobic” (because I don’t believe all forms of sexual behavior are equivalent), “xenophobic” (because I don’t believe every way of life is equally good), or offensive in some other way, just because I don’t march to their drum.
I get this question often. What can you do?
First, don’t expect to be able to share your interests with each of your professors. Be discrete. Learn with whom you can talk freely, with whom you can’t, who will respect your confidences, and who will gossip. This applies to conversations with fellow students, too.
Second, choose your mentors carefully. This is important not only for those already in a graduate program, like you, but also for those who are just choosing one; they shouldn’t go just by ranking or reputation, but should research the faculty in the program first. Having to defend yourself is normal and good for you, and it isn’t necessary that all of your professors be sympathetic to your point of view. However, you need to find at least one or two of the faculty who will be sufficiently likeminded to help you with your projects instead of tearing you down. Naturally, you should expect to be criticized for laziness or sloppy reasoning! But you shouldn’t have to do daily battle just because you don’t hold woke views.
Third, although you should try to get along with everyone, you should reconcile yourself to the fact that with some people this is impossible. Avoid them. When you have to deal with them, find things to talk about that interest them, not you, and do your work so impeccably that they find it difficult to criticize. But of course this is good advice even if you aren’t dealing with hostile critics!
Fourth, remember that although you must never be complicit with what is unconscionable, there are all sorts of interesting questions about race, family, and culture which don’t even raise issues about reverse discrimination, sexual disorder, or the evaluation of different ways of life. If – as I suspect – you don’t want to study one of the safe questions, but one which is inescapably risky, more power to you! As G.K. Chesterton said, only living things can go against the stream. But find ways to frame your question which intrigue even those whose views are radically different than yours. To do this, you will have to understand them as well as you possibly can.
Fifth, plan for the future. One of the most brilliant graduate students I’ve taught framed his research question in the way I’ve just urged, and did his work so well that he disarmed his critics, whose reasons for being interested in his project were quite different than his own. He used his doctoral research to lay the groundwork ahead of time for his next project after getting his PhD. It was much more controversial – but by that time, he had strengthened his position.
Finally, have fun. You’re still a young man. Young men like to fight. Learn which things are worth fighting for, and fight prudently: Not with your fists, but with your mind.