As we live, learn and socialize among peers our age, we also partake in our fair share of political agreements and disagreements. Cafeteria meals and late-night lobby talks can easily become among the hottest of climates on campus. In the Trump era, many of us recognize that we are living through one of America’s most polarized administrations. This is not to say that political banter has ever been easy at the lunch table, but it is currently as easy as crossing a minefield completely unscathed.
As soon as the name of the American president leaves your tongue, it’s all eyes on you. Strap in, because once that name is on the table, you could be in for a long conversation. The real question is this: is it possible for a college campus to remain unified in one of America’s most divided times? Statistics show that the more ignorant someone is in their political opinion, the more likely they are to radically defend it. This is not a very comforting fact to hear while living communally on a college campus. Often times there is a blend of both radical ignorance and radical knowledge. “Young” still makes up half of the phrase “young adult.” The “young” half continues to lack knowledge and is more likely to state opinions lacking roots in fact and then continuing to defend said opinions. The “adult” half of the label is coming into adulthood, learning and growing in knowledge. This isn’t to say that every adult can be completely knowledgeable and lacking in ignorance, nor is it to claim that every young person is lacking knowledge and completely ignorant. In this case, the radical opinion could be based on newfound information that the individual once lacked in his or her life. This difference between ignorance and learned political knowledge has the ability to divide a campus radically.
For example, what happens when a student enrolled in a global politics course holds a debate with a student who has never taken that particular course before and has little knowledge in that area? Often times this unbalanced situation can lead into a heated debate. There is a level of learned understanding that the person without the course may not hold, though this is not always the case. But it is less than fair for the person who has not studied the topic to be treated without compassion or respect. Remember, there is a beginning to all knowledge and a pride that can easily sneak in upon gaining new information. The ignorance will likely dissipate while knowledge and understanding make their way in, but it is essential that the knowledgeable treat the ignorant with respect and vice versa. How could the two join hands with one another after learning and growing more if there was no respect shared in the first place?
Even if two people may never come to a political agreement, it is right to acknowledge that they may be “set up” for this heated cafeteria debate by American media sources. The polarizing news in our nation today only contributes to divisive conversations around political discussion. According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of Republicans and Republican leaners say they trust Fox News as a source. CNN for Democrats and Democratic leaners is about as trusted of a source as Fox news is for Republicans at 67%. These statistics reveal that American media makes a strong contribution to the public divide. Especially on college campuses, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are primary modes of news-related information, but these platforms, riddled with algorithms designed to show people what they want to see, feed directly into the polarization of communities.
Breaking through the walls on a college campus that operates within a highly polarized political climate is a valiant undertaking, but it is worth advocating for unity within the boundaries of Hope’s campus. It is worth remaining civil and able to have conversation with the neighbor in the dorm room next to you—the one who you know opposes you. If there is willingness to talk about divisive topics, there should be an equal willingness to learn and be educated on the opposite opinion. Even if you know that you will never agree, what is the harm in learning what someone else may think? In this case, hearing the opposing viewpoint also holds us, as students, to a standard of researching and finding out for ourselves what we believe.
Knowledge is power, but so is humility. To keep our campus civil in this era of unrest, we must remain humble and willing to listen.