Talking Politics

Here’s something hard to argue with: political discussions are a net good. Through debates, people voice their opinions against dissenters, gain new perspectives and even strengthen and clarify their own positions. Especially on a liberal arts college campus like Amherst, where we are taught to challenge our personal convictions and conceptions of the world, debating the most pressing issues of fiscal and social politics is key. In the wake of the upcoming presidential elections, students must come together in the classroom, dormitories and the dining hall to engage in these multifaceted conversations. We all need to feel comfortable voicing our opinions and uncomfortable listening to ideas that challenge us as part of our education. Simply put, nothing should be instantly pushed off the table without a reasoned, satisfactory argument. Yet, at Amherst, as well as at many college campuses, we are missing out on these debates. Anecdotally, our campus has seen a shift towards immediately ignoring or shouting at those who say something offensive or just plain wrong, rather than examining that statement and then logically challenging their views. Students are ostracizing others socially for their political views. Spreading through a kind of politically charged gossiping, these students’ opinions may become misrepresented unfairly through convoluted digressions and their social standing ruined in this small school environment. This creation of political social pariahs is particularly dangerous as it pushes members of our community to make their comments anonymously, in comment sections or on posters. Every student, including those with radical and possibly oppressive, colonial or racially charged positions, deserves to voice their opinion and debate it. We do not need to accept all ideas, but we should come out of the other side having learned something.

We need to provide spaces in which discourse on this presidential campaign and the candidates stances’ on race, gender, LGBT rights and other political issues can be discussed academically and socially. Further, all students, especially students with privilege, must familiarize themselves with the feeling of discomfort that comes from participating in these discussions. We are close to creating an environment in which members of this community no longer feel like they can talk to their friends about their political standing, even on smaller notes. There are rifts, for example, cropping up between Bernie and Hillary supporters. To create an environment where we can make students uncomfortable intellectually, politically, and emotionally, we must, if somewhat ironically, make them feel comfortable expressing their views socially.