Auxiliary Board and Young Americans for Freedom address political polarization at Sewanee

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By Sophia Henderson, Staff Writer

The Bairnwick Women’s Center Auxiliary Board and the Young Americans for Freedom recently housed an event on political polarization. While these two groups do not often host events together, the purpose of this event was for students and faculty to come together and discuss the polarized political climate both on campus and throughout the rest of the country.

The facilitators utilized an intergroup dialogue format in order to enable conversation; attendees of the event sat in a circle and discussed questions posed by the students running the event.

The discussion focused on combating the polarization many see as problematic in the intellectual and political climates on campus. The event intended to bring together individuals who may not always see eye to eye and allow them to listen to one another. Students were challenged by the facilitators to consider whether their political views were reinforced by “an echo chamber” in their own social and academic lives.

Facilitators began the event by pointing out four different corners of the room. One corner displayed a sign that said “Strongly Agree,” another corner with a sign that said “Agree,” one more that said “Disagree,” and one saying “Strongly Disagree.”

Facilitators read several statements out loud and asked attendees to physically move to the corner of the room with the sign that they most agreed with based upon the statement.

Statements included sentences like “I feel safe on this campus,” and “I am comfortable voicing opinion during class discussions.” Once students made their way to the sign that aligned with their reaction to the statement, students from each section of the room were asked to briefly to explain their level of agreement or dissent based on the given statement.

Members of the Auxiliary Board and Young Americans for Freedom leading the discussion then asked students to sit in a circle and reflect on questions. Questions posed included, “Have you ever thought of what it would take for you to either move from being a liberal to a conservative or vice versa?”

Another question asked, “A lot of people fear to ask questions or disagree with popular opinions in fear of castigation. How can we make people comfortable enough to have honest dialogue?”  Leaders also asked, “What is your opinion on the current state of political discourse? Why do you think there is a lot of hateful/violent rhetoric?”

These questions spurred ongoing conversations, and students brought up questions of media bias, generational gaps in political persuasions, the current political administration, and whether hate speech ought to be protected as free speech.

Many students brought up the issue of listening to those with opposing views: how do we do this both respectfully and more often? In the campus climate of intellectual and political polarization, students emphasized the importance of listening without trying to change someone’s mind and asking questions instead of becoming defensive.

One comment

  1. This is what is supposed to happen on a college campus. A spirited debate of ideas! Both sides advocating their beliefs in a civil discourse. Sounds great!

    One more thing. Grow up, and throw that stupid phrase “hate speech” on the ash heap of history. All speech needs to be protected.

    The concept of “hate speech” is positively Orwellian and antithetical to freedom of expression.

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