I live on a campus that is continually ranked as one of the most politically active nationwide. It also happens to be an incredibly Democratic campus, though the College Republicans are very active. That being said, I haven’t noticed a significant increase in political mobilization on campus centered around the upcoming November elections. I had the impression upon entering college that election years make everything else on campus take a back seat. I was fully prepared to see media campaigns for the candidates, debate-watching parties and” West Wing” viewing parties, but none of that has happened.
The news that has gained the most press around here is the high-profile Republicans who have been to the campus recently. Not long ago, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer came to campus and various student groups formed a massive protest against the immigration legislation she has supported in her state. More recently, Texas Governor Rick Perry visited the campus, and was also met by a larger student protest addressing the high execution rate in the state of Texas.
I fully support protesting. It is our right and duty as Americans to speak truth to power. However, I find there are fewer and fewer opportunities and spaces to engage in respectful dialogue across differences. It is disheartening to see how little civility is reflected in our political process in these times. Rather than engage in dialogue with someone of a different political ideology, students are deciding the “other side” is worth hearing out. This is a troubling trend in our nation’s political life. My campus is full of aspiring politicians, bureaucrats and other public servants, but they have already become so entrenched in partisan ideology that they cannot engage in civil dialogue around political issues.
What is the political climate on campuses in your area? Are there very noticeable divides among party lines? Is the campus politically active? Candidates running for office love visiting local colleges and universities, so if they are in town, invite them to speak. Afterwards, have a discussion around the issues the candidates raise in their speeches – but remember civility when this discussion takes place!