College campuses tend to be some of the most prominent bastions of liberalism in the United States. Young people and college professors alike typically lean left politically; gathered together, they bring a melting pot of liberal ideas to campuses. Over time, some schools have established more liberal campus identities than others. Whether through a reputation for student activism, novel policies, or curricula that inherently attract liberal-minded students, several schools have become known for their left-leaning politics.
By examining which colleges and universities most embody progressive values -- including LGBT rights, environmental sustainability, improved access to healthcare, local food options, and unique education methods -- the most left-leaning colleges in the country can be identified. Some of these institutions began as efforts to establish centers of progressive education, while others grew out of their founders' religious commitments to social justice. Other schools represent the progressive values prominent in many of America's oldest and most venerable universities. These progressive colleges often hold reputations that help them attract even more liberal thinkers and activists.
Defining the Most Liberal Colleges
By examining which colleges and universities most embody progressive values - including LGBT rights, environmental sustainability, easy access to healthcare, local food options, and unique education methods -- we can identify the most left-leaning colleges in the country. Often, these progressive colleges have a reputation that allows them to attract even more liberal thinkers and activists, perpetuating long-standing campus cultures for generations to come.
Oberlin College has been one of the most inclusive institutions of higher education since its inception in the early 1800s. It was a center of the abolition movement in Antebellum America and admitted African-American students years before the Civil War. Oberlin was also the first coeducational college in the U.S. Additionally, since the 1980s, Oberlin has hosted the Drag Ball, an annual event that supports Transgender Awareness Week.
Students at the college can advance diversity at the intersection of race, class, sexuality, citizenship, and gender. The college's comparative American studies program includes specializations in identity and diversity; globalization, transnationalism, and nation; and histories and practices of social change.
Today, Oberlin maintains a sterling track record of social justice and inclusion across lines of gender, ethnicity, race, and sexuality, as demonstrated by its early adoption of an all-gender bathroom policy. Oberlin also has a history of experimental education, student activism, cooperative student housing and businesses, and sexual openness.
Evergreen State College
Evergreen State College began as an alternative higher education option in the mid-1960s. This college, which employs experimental education tactics, provides students with written narrative feedback on their work rather than traditional grades. Evergreen is remarkably diverse and inclusive; for example, the school constructed the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center to help indigenous students feel welcome. Additionally, the Supreme Court cited the work of one of the school's faculty members in its decision to make marriage equality national law.
Evergreen also focuses on environmental studies. The entire campus is a nature reserve with areas for recreation and study. The school also houses Evergreen Organic Farm, which teaches students everything from farm history and composting to planning an organic farm. Produce from the farm is sold to the community in Olympia, Washington. Interdisciplinary and multi-conceptual programming also emphasizes the importance of collaborative work.
Each year, Bard College enrolls one of the highest percentages of liberal students among all colleges in the U.S. Like many other liberal schools, Bard does not host fraternities or sororities; however, students can join a thriving arts and music scene. Professors and staff on this inclusive campus monitor the holistic health of their students, ensuring that everyone receives the emotional support they need to succeed.
Bard, which features both graduate and undergraduate programs, is working to make its campus carbon neutral by 2035. The school also hosts the Bard College Farm and is at the forefront in sustainability research and policy making. Bard's diversity programs include academic concentrations in Africana studies, gender and sexuality studies, and Latin-American and Iberian studies. At the Bard Center for Civic Engagement, students can take part in an array of civic action opportunities such as the the Bard Sanctuary Fund, a program designed to help undocumented students and refugees.
Hampshire College was established as an experimental school in the 1960s. The brainchild of several prominent local liberal arts schools -- including Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts -- Hampshire was designed as an alternative to traditional college learning. Faculty forgo traditional grading rubrics and education methods to focus more on long-term independent study, encouraging students to ask questions and search for answers. Hampshire also maintains one of the highest percentages of alumni who eventually go on to pursue graduate degrees.
In addition to its unique learning environment, the school embraces an open-minded, deliberative approach to social issues. In the past, Hampshire has closed classes campus-wide to discuss issues of racism and sexual assault. School resources include the Hampshire College Center for Feminisms and the Hampshire College Queer Community Alliance Center. The school also hopes to make its campus climate neutral by 2022.
Mount Holyoke College
|South Hadley, MA||
Mount Holyoke College educates women in a collaborative, forward-thinking, and all-female environment. The school also welcomes transgender students who identify as women, female, other, "they," or "ze." Twenty-seven percent of Mount Holyoke's students come from outside the U.S., and 26% of domestic students identify as racial or ethnic minorities. To encourage a diverse student body, Mount Holyoke offers a multitude of resources for low-income, LGBTQIA+, and undocumented and DACA students.
The school hosts more than 50 majors, 30% of which embrace an interdisciplinary approach, including programs in critical social thought, identity studies, and sustainability. Mount Holyoke is home to the Miller Worley Center for the Environment and plans to make its campus carbon neutral by 2037. The school hosts a living laboratory and an array of environmental programs and curricula. It is also home to a women's leadership center and the feminist a capella group Nice Shoes.
Sarah Lawrence University
Women make up the majority of students at Sarah Lawrence University, and the school is known for its exemplary gender relations. In addition to compassionate LGBT policies on campus, Sarah Lawrence hosts a geographically, racially, and culturally diverse student body. The university also has a long history of political activism, from the 1950s to the present, with students participating in sit-ins, marches, hunger strikes, and workshops to promote civil rights, diverse representation in the student body, and LGBTQIA+ advancement.
Sarah Lawrence boasts a prestigious academic profile, and many learners involve themselves in national and local causes. Students benefit from the school's proximity to New York City's cultural offerings, while also enjoying a safe campus 15 miles north of Manhattan. The school recently broke ground on the Barbara Walters Campus Center, designed to maximize environmental sustainability and celebrate natural resources.
The Maharishi University of Management
The home of consciousness-based education, Maharishi University of Management is an accredited, nonprofit university founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The school infuses higher education with the concepts and practices of transcendental meditation. MUM emphasizes a progressive and inclusive campus culture, welcoming students from many countries, cultures, religious traditions, and sexual orientations. Its campus features sustainable architecture and the cafeteria serves only organic, vegetarian meals. Students who identify as LGBTQIA+ can request spectrum housing if they feel that living in a gender binary dorm inhibits their ability to function optimally as a member of the university community.
From its campus in Fairfield, Iowa, MUM offers undergraduate and graduate programs in subjects that include regenerative organic agriculture, ayurveda wellness, creative entrepreneurship, and vedic science. Additionally, MUM was the first U.S. university to provide a bachelor's degree in sustainable living. The school also hosts more traditional programs in business, education, and creative and professional writing, and students can design their own majors.
Pitzer College is a member of the Claremont Colleges and sits 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The school commits itself to sustainability, diversity, and intellectual exploration. Sixty-eight percent of Pitzer's students live in LEED-certified residence halls, and on-campus learners can enjoy low-impact meals at the campus' farm-to-fork cafeteria. Pitzer was the first college in southern California to divest from fossil fuel stocks and is home to the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. Additionally, more than one-fourth of the campus' energy comes from renewable resources.
More than 56% of Pitzer's students identify as non-white, making it one of the nation's most ethnically diverse schools. In fact, diversity education often begins before students arrive on campus; Pitzer offers a diversity program to high school seniors from underrepresented cultural, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds who have been admitted to the school. Pitzer also emphasizes intellectual and religious non-conformity and was the first school in the U.S. to offer a program in secular studies.
Humboldt State University
One of California's many public universities, Humboldt State University is among the state's most ecologically attentive and culturally diverse institutions. In the 1970s, students at Humboldt helped found the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, which was incorporated into a pioneering wastewater treatment method. The university also hosts an eco-demonstration house and student-led energy projects. Learners at Humboldt can choose from about 200 sustainability-related classes in areas such as eco-spirituality, climate change, environmental inequality and globalization, and natural resources conservation.
Humboldt is also home to a large and active LGBTQIA+ student community. According to Campus Pride's Climate Index, the school is among the nation's friendliest campuses towards sexual minorities. Humboldt's student groups include the Queer Student Union and the Rainbow Discussion Initiative. Learners can also major in multicultural queer studies through Humboldt's Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Additionally, the school's Office of Diversity and Inclusion develops campus-wide policies to ensure inclusion.
University of California - Berkeley
With its involvement in the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s, UC Berkeley cemented itself as one of the nation's preeminent liberal communities. Today, the community remains home to a variety of liberal causes, and the school has undertaken several new projects of its own. UC Berkeley remains the number one producer of volunteers for the Peace Corps and has supported the rights of sexual minorities for decades; Students for Gay Power and the Gay Liberation Front both began on campus in 1969.
UC Berkeley currently maintains more than a dozen cooperative housing options for students. The campus also includes standard health services and sexual violence support and wellness services. Green buildings house locally sourced dining areas, encouraging students to compost and reduce waste. UC Berkeley also has a vibrant arts community.
A pioneer for women's rights since its founding in 1861, Vassar College is now a coeducational school committed to inclusion, diversity, and equity. The college embraces diversity among its community members and sustainability of the environment as two of its core principles. Vassar's Campus Life and Diversity Office strengthens the school's diverse culture through projects like the LGBTQ Center, the Women's Center, and the ALANA Cultural Center, which supports students of color. The college also hosts various dialogue and engagement programs.
The school's Office of Sustainability takes responsibility for campus-wide green initiatives, including efforts to become carbon neutral and various environmental programs. Vassar's climate action plan calls for the college to become carbon neutral by the year 2030. Courses in the university's 50-plus majors include putting sustainability theory into practice, women, crime and punishment, and children of immigration.
A "Little Ivy" located in Connecticut, Wesleyan University takes food sustainability seriously. Many of the meals served at the school feature locally sourced ingredients, some of which were grown on Wesleyan's own organic Long Lane Farm. Wesleyan also includes a variety of vegetarian and vegan meal options, along with more than a dozen composting areas for students around campus.
For the past 35 years, a thriving queer community has called Wesleyan home, and sexual minority thought and life represent important parts of the university's culture. Wesleyan's LGBTQII resources include all-gender restrooms and a robust LGBTQ alumni network. The school also offers a queer studies program with courses such as queer Russia, queer of color critique, and sex/gender in critical perspective. Wesleyan also boasts a popular arts scene.
Whether encouraging students to engage in carpooling and take public transit to its Northampton, Massachusetts-based campus or increasing composting and recycling programs, Smith College recognizes the importance of environmental stewardship. In recent years, Smith has also improved its local food intake, purchasing dairy products and dozens of other ingredients from nearby town. Other on-campus sustainability initiatives focus on reducing energy use.
In addition to its green focus, this prestigious women's college has strong academics and notable liberal activist alumni, including Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Learners can also visit the artistic city of Northampton as well as other nearby college campuses, including Hampshire and Mount Holyoke; in fact, Smith students can opt to take some courses at these other schools. Smith welcomes all who identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth.
Originally founded as a women's school, Bennington College now acts as a coeducational institution. The school focuses strongly on the arts, boasting many successful authors, actors, and artists among its alumni. Bennington also hosts a well-regarded MFA program. The school offers small class sizes and focuses on community learning and building. Programs like the Field Work Term and the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington give students a greater connection to the public.
The university's clubs and organizations include an environmental action group, a queer student group, a movement collective, a chapter of Planned Parenthood, and a club that helps bring affordable housing solutions to the community. Students can also participate in the vibrant arts scene in the local town of Bennington, Vermont.
Grinnell College has boasted a strong commitment to social justice since its founding by social gospel New England congregationalists in 1846. The school features curricula with no core requirements beyond a first year tutorial. Students individualize their own course of study, taking classes related to their academic and career interests. Some of the school's majors include peace and conflict studies; gender, sexuality, and women's studies; and environmental studies. Additionally, although the college offers 27 majors, learners can opt to design their own. An estimated 75% of Grinnell's students engage in arts programs, such as dance, studio art, and creative writing.
Located about 50 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa, the school sits near a state park and a nature reserve. The campus is committed to the sustainable use of environmental resources and plans to be carbon neutral by 2040.
Reed College values creative thinking, social engagement, and rigorous scholarship, employing an educational model that includes small conferences, laboratory classes, close interaction between students and faculty, and a year-long interdisciplinary humanities course. The school has many successful alumni, including Steve Jobs, chef James Beard, and author Donald Miller, and recently ranked number one on The Alumni Factor's list of schools with the most liberal alumni.
Reed's Office for Inclusive Community provides multicultural resources, gender-inclusive resources, and support for undocumented and DACA students. Located in the city of Portland, Oregon, Reed students can take advantage of an array of civil, cultural, and artistic programs. The city is home to the seventh-highest LGBT population in the country and is generally regarded as one of the safest cities for sexual minorities. Students can also enjoy Reed Canyon, a 28-acre watershed on Reed's campus.
Located in Northfield, MN, Carleton College was initially founded by the Congregational Church but is now a non-denominational school. In 1964, the institution removed its rule that students must attend chapel services after objection from a student-led group.
Today, Carleton continues its commitment to progressive action through its Gender and Sexuality Center, numerous cultural organizations, and a thriving study abroad program in which about 75% of Carleton's students participate. Through the school's Center for Community and Civic Engagement, learners can get involved in political activism, environmental sustainability, community development, and food systems revisioning. Additionally, the school draws about 65% of its electrical energy from two on-campus wind turbines. The school is also home to The Cave, the first student-led pub in the country.
The data analytics firm Crowdpac named Cornell University's faculty the fourth-most liberal in the country based on their political donations. These faculty teach at an institution that upholds the progressive values of diversity, public engagement, and sustainability. The only Ivy League school that is also a federal land-grant institution, Cornell has long demonstrated a commitment to sustainability. Today, 26% of its faculty engage in sustainability research; 29 campus buildings hold LEED certification; 60% of on-campus meals boast local, sustainable, or plant-based food; and 10% of campus electricity comes from renewables. Students can also take courses to learn about oceanic climate change, urban horticulture, and sustainable food systems.
Cornell founded its LGBT Resource Center almost 25 years ago; this center serves as a welcoming and affirming space for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The university also maintains a women's resource center and an Asian and Asian-American resource center. Students can opt to pursue academic study in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies or in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies.
Founded in Vermont in 1800, Middlebury College emphasizes the importance of an international education. The college boasts international locations, language schools, and an institute of international studies. Students at Middlebury's summer language programs can study one of 11 languages, and the college's Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs offers year-round events and funding for student research.
On the sustainability front, Middlebury has already achieved carbon neutrality -- the first higher education institution of its size to do so. The school's sprawling garden was planted more than 15 years ago, and Middlebury recently built a meditative labyrinth beside the garden plot. The college's commitment to diversity shows up in its array of student resources, including the Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury, the May Belle Chellis Women's Resource Center, and the Charles P. Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life.
|St. Paul, MN||
Macalester College is a midwestern liberal arts school that has become one of the most vocal small colleges in the U.S. Student protests and activism on campus have given the school of about 2,000 learners a national reputation. Students frequently invite speakers to campus to address pertinent political issues. In addition to its beautiful campus and strong academic offerings, Macalester also has a long track record of compassion related to LGBTQ issues. Its Gender and Sexuality Resource Center manages a number of supportive services, including the Macalester Reimagines Masculinity and Queer Union student organizations.
Macalester also focuses on campus sustainability, providing several vegetarian and vegan meal options to students, as well as easy access to healthcare. The college's sustainability plans include becoming carbon neutral, achieving zero waste, and purchasing 30% "real food" by 2020.
|New Haven, CT||
One of the oldest and best-known of the Ivy League institutions, undergraduates at Yale University can pursue majors in areas such as ethnicity, race, and migration; women's, gender, and sexuality studies; and gay and lesbian studies. Yale hosts several cultural centers, a women's center, LGBTQ resources, and interfaith student groups. Additionally, both the university and the surrounding New Haven, Connecticut, community support a thriving arts scene.
Students interested in sustainability can join campus action projects and help improve the campus' water and energy usage as well as its transportation activity. Additionally, Yale hosts a sustainable food program that helps increase the use of local food at the university and collaborates with the administration to increase education at Yale related to food and agriculture.
University of Vermont
The University of Vermont and its home city of Burlington recognize the importance of art, environmental positivity, and inclusive diversity. UVM's students organize political action groups, such as the Student Political Awareness and Responsibility Collective, which has addressed a variety of issues, including the importance of biodiversity.
Students can enroll in classes that include green building and community design; critical race and ethnic studies; and gender, sexuality, and women's studies. Additionally, learners at UVM can take advantage of campus-based organizations such as the Center for Cultural Pluralism, the LGBTQA Center, and the Mosaic Center for Students of Color. UVM also helps connect communities by sponsoring clubs for students of various political, racial, and religious groups. The campus boasts sustainable initiatives, including a commitment to serve more local, humane, sustainable, and fairly traded food.
Columbia College Chicago
A creative community in Chicago, Columbia College welcomes students looking to spend their collegiate careers learning about theater, radio, social media management, fashion studies, or other artistic fields. At Columbia, students pursue coursework that blends creative and media arts, business, and liberal arts. The school also offers minors in related areas, such as environmental studies; Latino and Latin-American studies; and women's, gender, and sexuality studies.
Columbia strives to incorporate sustainability into multiple facets of its curriculum. For example, fashion students explore concepts of eco-fashion and sustainability in the future of their industry, and learners can participate in an urban garden, which yields sustainably grown fibers for papermaking. Diversity and inclusion at Columbia include groups like Columbia Queer Alliance and Columbia Pride, a gender inclusivity initiative, and multicultural scholarship opportunities. The school's campus lies in Chicago's diverse South Loop neighborhood. The college also hosts the urban arts festival Manifest every year.
University of California - Santa Cruz
|Santa Cruz, CA||
Established in 1965, UCSC has been a bastion of politically left-leaning views since its role in opposing the Vietnam War. The school blends the small class sizes and individualized attention of a liberal arts education with the research prowess of a major university. This approach has attracted many liberal scholars; as early as 1970, 82.7% of UCSC students self-identified as liberal. Campus Pride ranks the school among its top-25 LGBT-friendly campuses.
The university's commitment to environmental issues goes back to its founding; some of UCSC's first students worked together to help save beaches and buildings from decay. Today, the school plans to become carbon neutral by 2025, and its students can pursue a certificate in sustainability. Learners at UCSC also have a proud history of involvement in local progressive politics, campaigns, and elections.
The seventh-oldest college in the U.S., Brown University is an Ivy League institution located in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown's undergraduate students do not declare a traditional major but instead pursue one of 81 concentrations; this progressive approach is rarely seen at research institutions. The school's Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan requires that a certain number of course offerings address diversity and inclusion; these classes typically focus on race, gender, and inequality.
Brown's diverse community celebrates its members through a queer legacy series, designated safe zones, and an LGBTQ leadership award. The school also offers a bachelor's degree in gender and sexuality studies. Students can participate in BiG (Brown is Green) initiatives, such as the Brown Unplugged Competition and efforts to reduce waste and improve water efficiency. Additionally, 35% of the food at the school's cafeteria comes from local sources and 100% of the coffee is fair-trade certified.