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BY BENJAMIN LOGSDON
Last January, I attended the “Freedom Rides” convocation in Weisiger Theater. This particular convocation was very captivating because the speaker was involved in Civil Rights movement during the 1960s. The speaker shared his experiences within the movement, which I found highly educational and valuable. However, the direction of the speaker’s lecture changed during his conclusion. The conclusion was a commentary on United States political parties.
I left that convocation feeling frustrated. How could a great convocation end so poorly? How could this man make the claim that an entire political party was racist? And how could no one refute such a claim?
Although this may be an extreme case, these types of experiences are all too commonplace for the average republican at Centre.
This past semester I was tasked with: (1) Identifying a norm at Centre, (2) Providing evidence of the norm, (3) Implementing a solution in order to transform the norm.
The norm I on which I chose to focus my project was political bias.
During the Building Bridges and Community Day, my seminar class collected a wide-range of survey data. The questions that I wanted to collect data on were: Do you feel your political views are included in formal conversations at Centre (e.g., in classrooms, convocations, newsletters, meetings)?, Which political party do you align most with?
These questions allowed me to compare how included people felt based on their political identity.
The survey output confirmed my expectations. 57% of republicans surveyed claimed that their political views were “probably not” or “definitely not” included at Centre. Only 8% of democrats surveyed described their inclusion in these terms.
In the aftermath of the survey, I wanted to hear from Centre Republicans and Centre Democrats. The following is a transcription from interviews with Sarah-James Miles, President of Centre Republicans, and Cooper Hall, President of Centre Democrats.
Me: Do you think political bias is relevant/problematic at Centre?
Sarah-James: I definitely think that political bias is present and problematic at Centre. I know of at least 5 people who have experienced explicit political bias from faculty members, myself included. It’s more disappointing than anything else. I like having professors of different ideological backgrounds who challenge me because I feel like I can learn from them, but when they impose their beliefs onto grades, that’s when it becomes extremely problematic, biased, and inappropriate.
Cooper: I don’t know if I can really speak to the first question; as the president of Centre Dems, my political views (at least on social policy, which I feel like is the primary issue that many people on the right tend to take issue with in these situations) haven’t really been directly challenged by my professors here at Centre, and I don’t like to speak for others. I do feel like the Econ department generally does a good job of presenting both sides, however.
Me: How do you think Centre could become more politically inclusive?
Sarah-James: Centre could become more politically inclusive through people being better listeners. People on this campus, and in general, are automatically ready to disagree with anyone who identifies with an opposing or different political party. It’s almost as if people stop listening after they hear the name of a party come up in a conversation. If students and faculty members were willing to hear the words “I’m a Republican…” and also willing to genuinely listen to the words that come after that, political discourse would, at the very least, be able to become inclusive. People may fundamentally disagree with another’s political ideas, and that’s okay. However, if we listened better, myself included, this campus could become more inclusive.
Me: Why is listening important? Would it surprise people to hear that republicans can be feminists, environmentalists, etc.?
Sarah-James: Listening is important because it’s the first step to breaking down assumptions and generalizations that fuel the polarization and hatred on campus. If we are able to hear each other out without first placing others’ identities into boxes of hurtful assumptions and labels, then conversations can be more productive and civil. It definitely surprises people that republicans can be feminists, environmentalists, pro-choice, and pro-LGBTQIA+. But the same goes for Democrats. I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else, but I think just because someone identifies with a political party doesn’t mean that all of their ideas conform to the most publicized or the harshest ideas of that party. For example, I’m a Republican but I fully support LGBTQIA+ rights and I consider myself to be an environmentalist. I’m not trying to say that I’m better than others who don’t share my beliefs, but I’m trying to convey that people such as myself can be moderate and have ideas that cross party lines.
Me: In politically polarized times, what are ways that your club and the Republican club can generate or have already generated understanding?
Cooper: Regarding the second question, Centre Dems has taken part in a number of initiatives to increase understanding between partisans on both sides. Last spring, we held a joint meeting with Centre Republicans and Diversity Student Union to discuss youth leadership in current social movements in an effort to bring people from both sides together; we have also held joint programs with Centre Republicans and CEA to inform students about important environmental issues that both sides can come together on.
This is my solution to the norm of political bias on campus. The goal of this article is to encourage our community to seek ways of understanding one another. It is imperative that we put labels aside and realize that we identify ourselves in complex ways that one word cannot define.