Photo by Ryan Brinkman | Photo Editing by Haley Hoidal
Family. Christian university. Social media. These are all elements that contribute to Pepperdine students’ ability to structure their opinions and stand up for them — questioning both good and bad.
The more confident and articulate people feel about their perspectives, the more they will continue to express themselves, said Kelly Haer, therapist and director of Pepperdine’s Boone Center of the Family.
In a recent Graphic survey of 146 Pepperdine students, 55.2% said they often feel compelled to share their opinion with others.
“It’s a part of being you, a part of owning oneself, and sometimes our opinions change over time,” Haer said. “It’s important to bring oneself into a relationship with others; a sense of authenticity and transparency is really significant for community well-being.”
Senior Psychology major Sam Han said he views opinions as part of our social and cultural ties, which all revolve around individual experiences.
“When I think of opinions, I think of a nature-versus-nurture type of debate where our opinions can be formed in our household,” Han said. “But it can also be formed through interactions with other people, and I view my options as attitudes, and so a lot of the black-and-white areas start to turn gray.”
From the Start
The brain receives stimuli from one’s surrounding atmosphere. Based on parental teachings, childhood is the earliest time someone forms an opinion. Then, friends, co-workers and even social media play a role in developing emotions — and the brain takes that information and forms opinions, said Chiconia Anderson, a therapist at Pepperdine’s Counseling Center.
“When we get that stimulus in, we form some type of emotion around it — whether it’s anger, happiness, sadness — and then all that information gets documented in our brain, and we respond to it,” Anderson said. “So every time something is like [a past experience] we are encountering, we have that same reaction to it, and that’s how we form an opinion around it.”
Opinions can stem from early on when someone’s initial reactions attach themselves to the part of the brain that rewards quick interactions and instant gratification, Anderson said.
“When children are younger, and they’re given vegetables, they form an opinion that they cannot eat a particular item based on what their friends have said — ‘Yeah, that’s gross,'” Anderson said. “Therefore, they are forming their opinion based on the social construct of the environment around them. That’s how the brain starts to attach, through the emotional response to the stimuli they’re getting.”
Students and faculty said the formation of opinions is different for everyone, but they agreed from experience that they stem from family, culture, faith and education.
“Thankfully, I had the privilege of growing up in a Latinx and Indigenous household, and everyone’s opinion was always formed by familial matters and cultural matters,” Calderon said. “That’s always been at the center of my purview.”
Haer and junior Psychology major Hee Joo Roh said opinions are often based on media and the information people are exposed to and consume. Even though family plays an important role in forming opinions, social media may help a person find their own voice — because it is an individualistic experience. For example, Roh remembers a conservative friend in high school who came from a strongly leftist household.
“Media around us, such as content we consume like TV shows, plays a heavy role,” Roh said. “That’s the realization I came up with because we’re so constantly surrounded by it, and it just works a way into our thoughts. Even if we don’t realize.”
Roh also said media create algorithms, feeding someone more of what they are already searching for.
“It’s really easy to create echo chambers, like bubbles, and it can cause polarization,” Roh said.
Haer and others agreed that when they understand a topic more fully, they can effectively articulate their words and are more likely to speak their minds.
“If I know I believe X, Y or Z, but it’s harder for me to explain the background and I don’t feel equipped to explain, then yeah, I’m more hesitant to speak my mind,” Haer said.
Being an opinionated college student can be difficult to navigate within family matters, students said. In the same survey, 36.3% of students polled said family has the most influence on their personal opinions.
Roh said she feels comfortable speaking out on issues she is passionate about, like LGBTQ+ rights and Asian American issues, with those she feels closest to — such as her siblings and friends — but it isn’t always easy.
“I’m not usually the person to speak out during family events, mostly because I think very differently from my immigrant parents and I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to rock the boat, who doesn’t want to cause a stir,” Roh said.
Due to someone’s internal conflict, Anderson said sometimes people feel it’s easier to share an opinion they don’t truly believe in order to blend in a social situation.
“But as with an opinion, how we view backlash or how we view our status within our social roots, is how we will express our opinions,” Anderson said.
In terms of college culture, Han said Pepperdine does try to be a place where all voices are heard, but sometimes it is difficult to have an open classroom environment.
“We’re polarized, even the classroom — I thought about this because, in some of my classes, it feels very one-sided,” Han said. “I know for sure there are people who are against the side that we’re on, but I feel it’s uncomfortable because you don’t want to get singled out. Pepperdine tries, as every other school does, but to share your opinion, you really need to just have the confidence to do so.”
Even though Pepperdine is a Christian campus, the community should come without expectations, because even Christians can have different opinions — as well as different social and economic stances, Han said.
“Some come to this University expecting, ‘Oh, I’m going to be around like-minded people, we’re all going to worship God, go to convocation and have a great time,’ but I think college is a really good place to have conflict,” Han said.
Bouncing ideas off one another, Anderson said, as well as interacting with course material, professors and students — helps influence how individuals see the world.
“Hopefully, we can continue to grow and change until the day that we pass away,” Anderson said. “College is a great little bubble because you are able to throw hypotheses and ideas out there.”
Haer said her experience in seminary — learning about the Bible and God’s overarching creation themes — was one of the most influential factors in shaping her opinions. She encourages all young adults to speak their minds and discover their own paths through their education.
“I think we need to learn to be OK when people are different than us and not feel like we have to change everybody to be like us,” Haer said.
Maturing in Opinion
As college students are in some of the most formative years of their lives, Roh said, surrounding oneself with people from all walks of life can be rewarding.
“It’s beneficial for you to surround yourself with people with a variety of opinions, but it’s a balance you need to make,” Roh said. “On the one hand, it’s really important for you to surround yourself with people with different cultures, but at the same time, if the person is, for example, homophobic, then that’s not something you should include in your friend group because that’s not a matter of difference of opinion.”
Within balancing these struggles, Calderon said as he explores post-graduate options, he foresees his opinions changing a lot. He hopes to bring his background values into new conversations and continue to manifest a new outlook on life.
“I’ve had opinions change, and that just comes with life and growth and getting new knowledge; that’s exciting,” Calderon said.
The core of one’s personality never really changes, and as students go through life and lose that title of “student,” Haer said it feels worse to suppress your voice than it ever will to free it.
“It can actually feel very empowering to speak your mind and do something different — and be OK with it to stick out,” Haer said.
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