It’s alarming how increasingly and dangerously divisive our nation has become. This year’s contentious election has demonstrated hyperpartisanship, increased fear mongering and name calling. We believe our nation’s leaders, representing both major parties, can and should do better.
As presidents of the College Republicans and College Democrats at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, we stand on opposite sides of many national issues. Yet we stand united on two fronts: empowering students to vote and the need to model civil discourse.
We share a complex understanding of the democratic process and encourage our peers to make their voice and their values heard in this election.
We are both political science majors who grew up immersed in politics, and we see the political process as a way to help people make a difference, locally and globally. That difference can take many forms. While one of us hopes to run for political office in the future, the other hopes to advocate for an end to international human rights injustices, especially in the Middle East and East Africa.
In a recent New York Times article, “Why don’t young people vote, and what can be done about it?” the statistics were troubling, and we hope to address the trend. In a joint project with the President’s Office, the Student Senate, and the College Republicans and Democrats, we have focused on a “get out to vote” campaign, while also promoting our university’s civil discourse series.
During these past few weeks, we assisted with hosting a voter-registration drive, formulated social media campaigns, distributed flyers with QR codes to direct students to each state’s voter registration and absentee ballot request sites and spoke to 40 classes campuswide. We were excited to see the positive response across the university community.
We are also preparing for the results of the Nov. 3 election, regardless of who wins. We are pulling together resources so that students can and will be involved beyond the election. We are available as a resource to fellow students to help them get in contact with political parties and the candidates, volunteer organizations and opportunities to be activists for change.
As we have worked together to develop a culture of respect and civil discourse within our campus community, we’ve remained aware of differing perspectives and worldviews. Our generation can address the dangers of confirmation bias, through which people become trapped in an echo chamber, refusing to read or believe anything that differs from their own viewpoint.
We encourage open-minded conversations in which we all have opportunities to learn from one another’s perspectives. We can respectfully disagree with one another while listening to other points of view. We can come to understand others’ culture and experiences and incorporate them into our understanding of the world.
Emotions are at a high pitch, and both sides of the political spectrum have only increased fear and perpetuated discriminatory rhetoric. It will take all of us showing character, respect and compassion to ease that fear. We aim to create a national culture that emphasizes open-mindedness, civility, honesty and justice.
Often, national politics is engulfed by hyperpartisanship, but at Saint Mary’s our students are promoting civil discourse and understanding. As we approach Nov. 3, our priority, first and foremost, is getting everyone to vote. Then, we hope to continue educating our peers and promoting civil discourse in order to ensure informed voting. We hope to see national politics emphasize the same values as Saint Mary’s students: valuing the opinions of others and respectfully engaging in political conversation.
As two student leaders from a small-town school in Minnesota, our efforts primarily affect those who we regularly interact with. However, it is the responsibility of every American to value compassion, respect and civility rather than blindly repeating divisive rhetoric.
Clare Bath is president of the College Democrats and Jonathon Krull is president of the College Republicans at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minn.