What college students don’t understand about patriotism

What college students don't understand about patriotism

Patriotism is declining throughout the United States. A Wall Street Journal/NORC poll from this year found that only 38% say patriotism is very important to them. In 1998, that number was 70%.

Each year, Gallup releases a poll measuring American pride, and the titles alone confirm this depressing trend: in 2018, a “ Record-Low 47% Extremely Proud to be Americans ,” in 2019, “ American Pride Hits New Low ,” in 2020, “ U.S. National Pride Falls to Record Low ,” in 2022, “ Record-Low 38% Extremely Proud to Be American .”


These polls, while disappointing, do not surprise me.

As a conservative and recent college graduate, I have witnessed a lack of American pride too often. Once, I walked into a conversation between friends who were arguing over whether the male student, a bisexual man, should fly the American flag. The female student stated that he could not possibly support such an exclusionary symbol, given that “America hates gays, and that flag is a constant reminder of that.” She argued that having an American flag goes against his very identity, as though being gay and American are mutually exclusive.

Out of any age group, college students are among those with the lowest levels of American pride. In fact, I’d go as far as to say college environments are breeding grounds for anti-Americanism. When asked if their classes or other academic activities changed how they view the United States, 70% of those who said yes indicated that college made them view the country and capitalism more negatively. Nearly half said that college made them more pessimistic about the future of the United States.

College students have also shown blatant disrespect toward our flag. American University students burned flags as they shouted “F*** white America,” St. Mary’s students shredded their flag, Brown University students stomped on flags at an event honoring veterans, and the list goes on. Trinity College has been the most recent subject of attention, after the administration removed two variations of the American flag, citing a school policy that forbade flying flags for safety reasons, but allowed the transgender and LGBT flags to continue flying without a problem.

Let’s not forget the Stanford University “ Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative ,” which put the word “American” on the forbidden words list in 2020 because the word suggested “that the U.S. is the most important country in the Americas.”

While the initiative has since been suspended due to extreme backlash, it raises the question: How could administrators have thought this was a good idea in the first place? This lack of patriotism worries me deeply, and it should worry you, too. We are so divided along party lines that one of the only things we both have in common is our American citizenship.

Patriotism can serve as the glue that holds us together despite our differences. It must transcend partisanship, gender, and race, and it must not be reserved for when our country is “perfect.”

We can love and take pride in our country but still acknowledge its flaws. In fact, patriotism might better motivate us to make changes that improve the United States.

The Archbridge Institute found that Americans who are proud of their national identity are more committed to confronting challenges such as racism, poverty, political polarization, and climate change.

Further, research suggests that people who are proud of their American identity are more trusting of their fellow citizens. National pride is a stronger predictor of social trust than other variables such as age, education, race, and gender. Social trust is crucial to creating a culture of harmony and acceptance.

On an individual level, recent studies suggest that patriotism might even boost individual health and sense of well-being.

With all of these observable positive effects, it becomes abundantly obvious why we should be unapologetically patriotic. When we stop distorting patriotism into a symbol of division or exclusion and instead see it for what it is, a source of unity and a mechanism for progress, we can propel this nation forward.

Let us recommit to our shared American identity and let patriotism fuel the flame necessary to create an evermore perfect union.


Jordyn Ney is a recent graduate from Dickinson College where she was president of her Network of enlightened Women chapter.