By Katie Peters, Emily Long & Claire Crittendon – Arts Editor, Digital Editor, Features Editor
As the 2020 election draws ever-nearer, Lasell’s political climate is attracting more and more attention. From conversations between peers to heated classroom discussions, it is hard to avoid the political divide, but should we be avoiding it in the first place?
Many conservative students on campus feel their voices and opinions are unwelcomed in a classroom setting. Junior Noah Roberts-Yarnevich said when conservative students speak up about their views in class, they risk being labeled as racist or sexist for their political viewpoint.
“I’m a [residential assistant], I’m involved in things on campus. I judge a person based on their character and how they treat me,” said Roberts-Yarnevich. “Just because I identify as republican or conservative, that doesn’t mean I’m one hundred percent ride or die for everything on that side. There are things I disagree with.”
Students can generally point to one of two sources for their discomfort speaking up in class: their professors or their peers. In some cases, professors may not leave political ideologies at home when they teach. Other students can feel attacked or targeted by their peers when they share unpopular viewpoints.
Senior Hannah Wolfe is comfortable expressing her political opinions in the classroom, however, she has run into situations where professors are not neutral during political topics in class. Wolfe is a registered democrat who identifies her political leanings as, “very liberal, very progressive. I’m on the left side of the aisle, there’s really no two ways about it with me.” Even as a liberal student, she has run into situations where professors do not take a neutral stance during discussions and instead seem to instigate arguments.
“If you have a political question, you should ask it in a way that is neutral if you can. Because then, you open up the doors for healthy conversation. You should not take a side in the classroom. Classrooms are neutral spaces,” said Wolfe.
When Assistant Director of the Center for Community Based Learning Byrd Hughes and Library Director Anna Sarneso went to undergraduate courses to discuss voting and politics, they did not observe the same tension some feel during those types of conversations. The purpose of their visits, mostly to first-year classes, was to promote an initiative to get Lasell students to the polls. Part of their presentation was a class discussion on the news of politics, something that has the potential to be polarizing.
Their observations indicated students feel most comfortable discussing the news of politics with close friends from home rather than peers on campus. Other students don’t discuss it at all. Hughes and Sarneso cited three reasons for this: lack of knowledge, avoiding conflict and general disinterest. Some students didn’t want to make a statement without being able to back it up with facts, while others didn’t want to get into arguments because of the “wide divide of where people stand in politics,” said Hughes.
“I think voice is really important and I hope students always feel like they can have a voice in my classes,” said Associate Professor of Communication Dr. Erin Vicente. She wants students to know there is strength in their opinions Assistant Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jesse Tauriac see political viewpoint diversity as vital to any students’ education. “If we don’t have the opportunity to learn about varied perspectives, viewpoints and opinions, it significantly undermines our ability to provide a robust and meaningful education,” said Tauriac. As the Director of the Donahue Institute for Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion, Tauriac has a responsibility to ensure all students’ viewpoints are respected within reason. He encourages all students and faculty to be a part of the diversity and inclusion conversation so they can “recognize the kinds of experiences that students and employees have [and] raise important questions about educational experiences that we offer and being able to have very thoughtful and nuanced conversations about multiple sides of issues.” Professor Luis Lopez-Preciado has experience leading neutral discussions in his Human Communication class through the process of deliberative dialogue.
Brought to Lasell by professor Sharon Lowenstein, deliberative dialogue is a structured conversation that allows students to discuss complex issues such as economic inequality, in a way that helps find common ground and solutions. Lopez-Preciado does this exercise as a method to not only foster discussion but open students’ minds to thinking about different viewpoints. He believes college students should engage in opinions other than their own.
“People their age can and should form opinions. They can have disagreements of opinion and it doesn’t mean the other person is an enemy or an adversary to the threat of our country. I believe with our current political polarization, many people have gotten to the belief of not only do I disagree with you politically, but you’re a threat to my country and I think that’s dangerous,” said Lopez-Predicado.
How have you been approaching political conversations?